Sleep Loss and Weight Gain

Catch any good ZZZs lately?

IleneBy Ilene Raymond Rush

April 2013 — The number one complaint among my friends over fifty is the elusive full night's sleep. In my neighborhood, women have reported all sorts of activities at three a.m. — hair washing, book reading, even plant repotting (not to mention the ubiquitous ice cream raid). The problems reported range from the inability to fall asleep — racing thoughts, restless legs — to the impossibility of staying asleep, even with artificial sleep aids.

It's a frustrating problem that makes for drowsy mornings and too much caffeine during the day, which can lead to problems falling asleep and staying asleep which means you need more caffeine the next day and, well... You see the problem.

If the very question of how much sleep you've missed lately leaves you tired or irritated, rest assured you are not alone. According to the nonprofit National Sleep Foundation, in 2012, about seventy million people in the US suffered with insomnia. Sleep deprivation is a national problem that can lead to all sorts of corollary issues, from the aforementioned irritation and simple exhaustion, to confusion, poor driving, and a lack of the ability to concentrate. It may also lead to pre-diabetes, and may be a sign of high blood sugars.

But now, a new study from the University of Colorado reveals a new wrinkle — missing only a few hours of your daily sleep can result in immediate weight gain. The study, reports the New York Times, finds the lack of sleep and weight gain connection "may be more insidious than previously thought."

In the two-week study, participants were divided between those who clocked nine hours of sleep at night and those who were limited to five. During the first week, the light sleepers actually exhibited speedier metabolisms than the heavy sleepers and tended to burn about an extra 111 calories a day.

But sleep deprivation turned out to be a bad way to lose weight, since the light sleepers also ate more during the day than the heavy sleepers, gaining about two pounds during the first week. When the sleep patterns were reversed — the heavy sleepers put on the light sleeper regimen and vice versa — those light sleepers who had put on pounds during the first week lost some (but not all) of the weight. The heavy sleepers who had slipped into sleep deprivation gained weight.

And that wasn't all. Not only did the light sleepers eat more, but they also changed the composition of their diets. Kenneth Wright, the director of the university's sleep and chronobiology laboratory, said in the Times article that light sleepers tended to eat small breakfasts and a lot more food following dinner. But most significantly for people with diabetes was what the sleep deprived ate: overall, they upped their consumption of carbohydrates.

All of which should send alarm bells ringing for people with diabetes and sleep issues.

So what to do? One possibility is to visit a sleep clinic to see if a sleepless night has a biological component.

The other is to work hard to control blood sugars. High blood sugars can lead to frequent urination during the night, and that need to get up and down can interrupt even the sweetest of dreams. High blood sugars can also prompt nighttime eating, pushing sugars up and leaving you uncomfortable and unable to sleep.

The take away here is familiar, but important: the better controlled your blood sugars, the better your overall health. And sleep.

Click here to read more of Ilene's Second Chances columns here.

Read Ilene's blog.

dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.

Last Modified Date: February 28, 2014

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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