Study objectives: Sleep deprivation has been hypothesized to contribute toward obesity by decreasing leptin, increasing ghrelin, and compromising insulin sensitivity. This study examines cross-sectional and longitudinal data from a large United States sample to determine whether sleep duration is associated with obesity and weight gain.
Design: Longitudinal analyses of the 1982-1984, 1987, and 1992 NHANES I Followup Studies and cross-sectional analysis of the 1982-1984 study.
Setting: Probability sample of the civilian noninstitutionalized population of the United States.
Participants: Sample sizes of 9,588 for the cross-sectional analyses, 8,073 for the 1987, and 6,981 for the 1992 longitudinal analyses.
Measurements and results: Measured weight in 1982-1984 and self-reported weights in 1987 and 1992. Subjects between the ages of 32 and 49 years with self-reported sleep durations at baseline less than 7 hours had higher average body mass indexes and were more likely to be obese than subjects with sleep durations of 7 hours. Sleep durations over 7 hours were not consistently associated with either an increased or decreased likelihood of obesity in the cross-sectional and longitudinal results. Each additional hour of sleep at baseline was negatively associated with change in body mass index over the follow-up period, but this association was small and statistically insignificant.
Conclusions: These findings support the hypothesis that sleep duration is associated with obesity in a large longitudinally monitored United States sample. These observations support earlier experimental sleep studies and provide a basis for future studies on weight control interventions that increase the quantity and quality of sleep.