Can Lack of Sleep Lead to Weight Gain and Diabetes?

      It may come as no surprise to you to learn that overweight, obesity, and diabetes are some of the most common medical problems found in adults today. Part of what is so alarming about these diseases is that they put you at risk for a variety of other health problems, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart attacks.

      In addition, being overweight or obese can increase your risk of diabetes. Therefore, fighting obesity is an important first step to preventing many other medical conditions.

      You probably know that the 2 biggest factors that can lead to overweight and obesity are eating more calories every day than your body needs, and not getting enough physical activity. A recent study has found that there might be another factor that contributes to weight gain and diabetes—not getting enough sleep!

What does sleep have to do with diabetes?

      Can Lack of Sleep Lead to Weight Gain and DiabetesThat’s a great question! Experts aren’t completely sure, but they think it has to do with the fact that poor sleep, or not enough sleep, fouls-up your body’s internal clock.

      Your body goes through a regular 24-hour cycle each day. During this time, hormones and other chemical signals are released in different amounts, depending on where you body is in the cycle. The signals play a part in all sorts of things, including appetite, memory, how your body stores calories, or how well you fight-off illness.

      Your body likes to have a very regular schedule, and part of the way it tries to do this is by basing the internal clock off your sleep-wake cycle. Before the age of TV, video games, and cell phones, people usually went to bed and got up around the same time every day. This was good for the body’s internal clock.

      However, people today tend to get less sleep overall, and it isn’t always good quality sleep. Over time, this can cause problems with your body’s internal clock. Health experts believe that these changes could lead to a variety of diseases, including diabetes and obesity.

The research

      In order to see if they could find a link between lack of sleep and specific health problems the researchers combined results from studies that took place between 1998 and 2013.

      They wanted to see if they could find a link between lack of sleep or low quality sleep and the following conditions:

  • Diabetes
  • Overweight and obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Appetite
  • Changes in how the body burns and stores energy

The results

      The study found that not getting enough sleep each night was strongly linked with:

  • Increased rates of obesity
  • Increased rates of diabetes

There was also a weak link between lack of sleep and:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol

What do these results means for you?

      It’s important to understand that these health problems don’t happen after just a few nights of bad sleep. It takes weeks or months (sometimes years) of not getting enough sleep before your health starts to suffer.

      It’s also important to know that just as easily as lack of sleep can lead to health problems, experts think that getting back into a good sleeping pattern can do the opposite. In fact, making sure that you get enough sleep might be used as treatment for some health problems in the future, such as obesity and diabetes.

The take home points

  • Your body has an internal clock that helps keep your body healthy
  • Not getting enough sleep each night can cause problems with your body’s normal 24-hour cycle
  • Chronic lack of sleep can increase your risk of diabetes and obesity and other health problems like high blood pressure
  • Experts agree that about 7-9hrs of sleep is what your body needs each night
  • Other tips that can help you sleep well include:
    • Go to sleep and get up at the same time each night
    • Have a relaxing routine you can do before bed each night—try reading or meditating
    • Avoid alcohol and heavy meals at night
    • Avoid afternoon naps
    • Get enough exercise each day
    • If you can’t fall asleep right away, get up and do something relaxing in another room until you feel tired



(45 Articles)

Dr. Robert Ehrman, MD is a Board Certified Emergency Physician. He completed his training in Emergency Medicine at Yale-New Haven Hospital in New Haven, CT and Cook County Hospital in Chicago, IL. He always reminds his patients that the more they take care for their health each day, the less likely they are to visit him again in the ER!

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