The prevalence of obesity is increasing rapidly worldwide, which is cause for concern because obesity increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, reduces life expectancy, and impairs quality of life. A better understanding of the risk factors for obesity is therefore a critical global health concern, and human biologists can play an important role in identifying these risk factors in various populations. The objective of this review is to present the evidence that inadequate sleep may be a novel risk factor associated with increased vulnerability to obesity and associated cardiometabolic disease. Experimental studies have found that short-term sleep restriction is associated with impaired glucose metabolism, dysregulation of appetite, and increased blood pressure. Observational studies have observed cross-sectional associations between short sleep duration (generally <6 h per night) and increased body mass index or obesity, prevalent diabetes, and prevalent hypertension. Some studies also reported an association between self-reported long sleep duration (generally >8 h per night) and cardiometabolic disease. A few prospective studies have found a significant increased risk of weight gain, incident diabetes, and incident hypertension associated with inadequate sleep. Given the potential link between inadequate sleep and obesity, a critical next step is to identify the social, cultural, and environmental determinants of sleep, which would help to identify vulnerable populations. Future human biology research should consider variation in sleep characteristics among different populations and determine whether the associations between sleep and obesity observed in Western populations persist elsewhere.
Copyright © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.