Chronic sleep deprivation and seasonality: implications for the obesity epidemic

J Endocrinol Invest. 2011 Nov;34(10):793-800. doi: 10.3275/7808. Epub 2011 Jun 27.


Sleep duration has progressively fallen over the last 100 years while obesity has increased in the past 30 years. Several studies have reported an association between chronic sleep deprivation and long-term weight gain. Increased energy intake due to sleep loss has been listed as the main mechanism. The consequences of chronic sleep deprivation on energy expenditure have not been fully explored. Sleep, body weight, mood and behavior are subjected to circannual changes. However, in our modern environment seasonal changes in light and ambient temperature are attenuated. Seasonality, defined as cyclic changes in mood and behavior, is a stable personality trait with a strong genetic component. We hypothesize that the attenuation in seasonal changes in the environment may produce negative consequences, especially in individuals more predisposed to seasonality, such as women. Seasonal affective disorder, a condition more common in women and characterized by depressed mood, hypersomnia, weight gain, and carbohydrate craving during the winter, represents an extreme example of seasonality. One of the postulated functions of sleep is energy preservation. Hibernation, a phenomenon characterized by decreased energy expenditure and changes in the state of arousal, may offer useful insight into the mechanisms behind energy preservation during sleep. The goals of this article are to: a) consider the contribution of changes in energy expenditure to the weight gain due to sleep loss; b) review the phenomena of seasonality, hibernation, and their neuroendocrine mechanisms as they relate to sleep, energy expenditure, and body weight regulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / physiopathology
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Energy Intake
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology
  • Female
  • Hibernation / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Melatonin / physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / etiology*
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder / genetics
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder / psychology
  • Seasons
  • Sleep Deprivation / physiopathology*
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / physiopathology
  • Sleep, REM / physiology
  • Weight Gain


  • Melatonin