Sleep disturbances, body fat distribution, food intake and/or energy expenditure: pathophysiological aspects

Horm Mol Biol Clin Investig. 2014 Jan;17(1):29-37. doi: 10.1515/hmbci-2013-0066.


Data from cross-sectional and longitudinal studies have illustrated a relationship between short sleep duration (SSD) and weight gain. Individuals with SSD are heavier and gain more weight over time than normal-duration sleepers. This sleep-obesity relationship may have consequences for obesity treatments, as it appears that short sleepers have reduced ability to lose weight. Laboratory-based clinical studies found that experimental sleep restriction affects energy expenditure and intake, possibly providing a mechanistic explanation for the weight gain observed in chronic short sleepers. Specifically, compared to normal sleep duration, sleep restriction increases food intake beyond the energetic costs of increased time spent awake. Reasons for this increased energy intake after sleep restriction are unclear but may include disrupted appetite-regulating hormones, altered brain mechanisms involved in the hedonic aspects of appetite, and/or changes in sleep quality and architecture. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a disorder at the intersection of sleep and obesity, and the characteristics of the disorder illustrate many of the effects of sleep disturbances on body weight and vice versa. Specifically, while obesity is among the main risk factors for OSA, the disorder itself and its associated disturbances in sleep quality and architecture seem to alter energy balance parameters and may induce further weight gain. Several intervention trials have shown that weight loss is associated with reduced OSA severity. Thus, weight loss may improve sleep, and these improvements may promote further weight loss. Future studies should establish whether increasing sleep duration/improving sleep quality can induce weight loss.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Body Fat Distribution*
  • Eating*
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Obesity / complications
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Obesity / pathology
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / complications
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / metabolism
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / physiopathology*
  • Weight Gain
  • Weight Loss