How a little sleep loss makes you eat a lot more

You know when you’ve had a really bad night’s sleep…

Your energy is low, it’s hard to focus and you feel like you’re dragging yourself through the day.

But partial sleep deprivation… that’s another thing because the effects may not be as obvious.

Unfortunately though, those lost hours of sleep can add up to a wide range of health issues — lowered immune function, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart attack and even stroke!

Weight gain and obesity have also been linked to lack of sleep. And if weight is a problem that troubles you, you’re going to find this very interesting…

You see, one thing that’s never been quite clear, until now, is whether sleep-deprived weight gain was caused by hormonal changes or increased appetite and food intake…

Why does sleep impact your weight?

First up, let’s just get the obvious out of the way. Sleep deprivation doesn’t motivate you to exercise more, so you’re not going to be expending any extra energy. If anything, you’ll be expending less.

But when you’re sleep deprived, there is one thing you could be very motivated to do…

And that’s to feel better. To help your body feel better you crave a certain ‘feel-good’ experience. An experience that can only be gained by consuming more food…

According to the review, partial sleep deprivation will drive you to consume an average 385 more calories, per day.

Let’s just do a bit of math here…

If you have a week’s worth of partial sleep deprivation that could potentially add up to an additional 2,695 calories — over just one week!

Couple that with reduced energy expenditure and you’re going to find it almost impossible to battle the bulge!

What’s even more interesting though, is that when you’re partially sleep deprived, your insatiable appetite is not driven by alterations in hormones, which is what previous studies had always suggested.

What’s driving your insatiable appetite is nerve activation in response to food stimulus — the intake of food when you’re sleep deprived triggers the reward centers in your brain and therefore, increases your motivation to seek out food!

As you can imagine, if you’re driven by a ‘feel good’ experience, chances are you’re not going to be grabbing a celery stick from the fridge or a piece of chicken breast to munch on.

Chances are you’re going to be choosing junk foods that are higher in fat, sugar and carbs.

And that’s exactly what the researchers found…

People who are sleep deprived have a higher fat and carbohydrate intake (two nutrients that can contribute to higher fat storage, especially when consumed together) and lower intake of protein (the macronutrient that provides a feeling of fullness and satisfaction).

How can things get better?

So what can you do to get the 7 to 9 hours of nightly sleep that The National Sleep Foundation recommends and gain more control over managing your weight?

A few things…

First starters, now that you know that your insatiable appetite is likely driven by your need for sleep, you can be mindful of what’s happening when you experience a craving. Practicing mindfulness techniques can reduce cravings for alcohol and you can put the same principle to use to quell your food cravings. Try this 11-minute trick.

Secondly, you can help your body improve the way it metabolizes energy. Not only can that improve your sleep, but it can also improve your energy during the day.

Take note of how much sleep you’re getting, and if it’s not enough, I’d recommend you see if any of the expert tips from my colleagues can help:

Editor’s note: Poor sleep is also closely linked to breast cancer. As women age, sleep becomes more of a problem. So, it’s vital to look beyond drug therapy and doctor’s visits alone to increase your chances of avoiding and recovering from cancer. For a preview of what you’ll find in Dr. Michael Cutler’s comprehensive guide, Surviving Cancer, click here.


  1. Khatib HK AI, et al. The effects of partial sleep deprivation on energy balance: a systematic review and meta-analysis. — European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2017;71:614-624.
  2. Sleep health index — (2017). Retrieved  September, 2017.
Jedha Dening

By Jedha Dening

Jedha Dening is a qualified nutritionist (MNutr), researcher, author, freelance writer, and founder of type 2 diabetic nutrition site Diabetes Meal Plans. Her masters thesis on nutrition and inflammation was published and then presented at a national scientific conference. She has millions of words published in the health industry across various print and online publications. Having been in the field for over 15 years, she’s incredibly passionate about delving into the latest research to share the myths and truths surrounding nutrition and health. She believes when armed with the right knowledge, we’re empowered to make informed choices that can truly make a difference.