Myth: Inadequate Sleep Time Linked to Adult Obesity

Absolutely nothing to do with sleep or obesity

Absolutely nothing to do with sleep or obesity

It’s currently popular to blame inadequate sleep time for overweight and obesity. I found a study supporting that idea in children, but not adults. Here’s the authors’ conclusion:

While shorter sleep duration consistently predicts subsequent weight gain in children, the relationship is not clear in adults. We discuss possible limitations of the current studies: 1.) the diminishing association between short sleep duration on weight gain over time after transition to short sleep, 2.) lack of inclusion of appropriate confounding, mediating, and moderating variables (i.e. sleep complaints and sedentary behavior), and 3.) measurement issues.

I found another analysis from a different team that is skeptical about the association of sleep deprivation and obesity in adults.

Everybody knows adults are getting less sleep now than we did decades ago, right? Well, not really. From Sleep Duration Across the Lifespan: Implications for Health:

Twelve studies, representing data from 15 countries and a time period of approximately 40 years, attempted to document changes in sleep duration over that time period. They found that, overall, there is no consistent evidence that sleep durations worldwide are declining among adults. Sleep duration decreased in six countries, sleep duration increased in seven countries, and mixed results were detected in two (one of which was the USA). In particular, the data from the USA suggest that although mean sleep duration may have actually increased slightly over the past 40 years, the proportion of short sleepers (six hours per night or less) also seems to have increased over the past several decades.

See, it’s complicated. Don’t believe everything you read. Not even this.

Steve Parker, M.D.



Filed under Overweight and Obesity

2 responses to “Myth: Inadequate Sleep Time Linked to Adult Obesity

  1. Thanks for one more study.

    There is no doubt in my mind that being tired is a contributing factor. If I am tired, I want to eat, and did. I think there is a vast number of “contributing factors”. Get enough contributing factors and you will become obese. Just wanting to eat all the time may be enough by its self.

    • Hi, fredt.
      For me, not getting enough sleep tends to reduce my discipline, willpower, and ability to cope with stress. Those obviously could lead to over-eating. I notice that after a particularly stressful shift at work, I tend to feel entitled to reward myself, sometimes with food that’s not the best for me.