Does poor sleep increase my body weight?

Do you seem to be gaining weight and can’t shift it? Is it possible that you have poor sleep – is it possible that you have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

Exactly how a lack of sleep affects our ability to control our weight and has a lot to do with our hormones.

I seem to be gaining weight and can’t shift it.

How Sleep Apnea Can Cause Weight Gain?

Having poor sleep or sleep apnea can contribute to gaining body weight, and people with severe OSA have a greater chance of gaining more weight compared to those with less severe OSA.

Poor sleep quality influences the production of hormones that relate to appetite and its suppression as well as what happens to fat production, and OSA can cause daytime sleepiness, thereby decreasing physical activity.

Unfortunately, this can make it difficult for people with OSA to lose weight which becomes a vicious cycle because there is no doubt that an increase in body mass and weight will worsen pre-existing OSA, equally however, weight loss positively impacts the reduction of OSA severity.

If you’re overweight or obese and believe you may have sleep apnea, talk with your healthcare professional who can manage or refer you for management.

When left untreated, obstructive sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and heart trouble, so it’s important to address this as soon as possible.

Poor sleep is not normal, it’s effects can be serious and sever and alas can sneak up on us because its what most of us get used to. Work and other commitments, entertainment and our 24 hour society doesn’t help!

Hormones and weight management

There are numerous hormones that are intricately involved in connecting the stomach to the brain and telling us when we are hungry or full.

One of these hormones is Ghrelin, which is often referred to as “the hunger hormone”, another “Leptin” is considered to function as its antagonist.

Both are produced in the gut and signal to the brain (amongst other organ systems). The system is very complex.

 Leptin can be considered the “satiety” hormone, the one that tells you that you’ve eaten enough. It is now established that obese patients are leptin-resistant.

However, the manner in which both the leptin and ghrelin systems contribute to the development of, or maintenance of obesity is as yet, not clear.

There is of course much interest in leptin as it may have a future in the control of obesity.

Insulin is another hormone affected by sleep disorders. When we don’t sleep well, our cells block insulin’s efforts to carry glucose into our cells. It acts as if as if sleep deprivation is making us diabetic.

This is a potential mode of action between poor sleep and obesity.  Insulin promotes the release of leptin, the “stop eating” hormone, so when we’re sleep deprived and our cells are rejecting insulin our bodies are also making less leptin, which then drives us to eat more and consequently gain weight.

Improved hormonal stability, better weight management?

Getting a good night’s sleep again, may stabilise hormonal disturbances, although there is no evidence that weight loss will result.

So, getting better sleep is the first step, the second is diet and exercise. It must be remembered that sleep is regular – in other words, “good sleep, every night”, not just when it’s convenient. Sleep deprivation is chronic – so management must be too.

A good night’s sleep lessens fatigue, so you’re more likely consider exercise (which doesn’t have to be the gym), which certainly promotes weight loss, equally you also don’t have to start starving yourself – just considering your options first. It’ll be easier after a good night’s sleep too.

Body shape and obstructive sleep apnea

There is evidence that not only does fat in certain areas worsen (or cause) OSA, but that OSA can influence body shape. Just think about the body during OSA events – the body fighting to suck air into the lungs but unable.

There is tremendous strain, the result, a “barrel shaped” chest . Clinical reports support clinical findings that a sunken or funnel chest may be seen seen in younger children with obstructive sleep apnea.

Poor sleep has been associated with severe scoliosis or abnormally narrow chests can lead to restrictive pulmonary limitation and place individuals at a higher risk of desaturating with sleep too. Barrel-shaped chests are seen in patients with chronic obstructive lung disease as well as OSA.

Poor sleep and OSA during childhood

Children, poor sleep and development will be discussed in another post but suffice it to say that with the increase in obesity in childhood we must be mindful of this two-way connection.

The amount of time that children spend asleep when cognitive skills and self-regulation are developing suggests that sleep serves a number of vital functions that support neurological development.

Obstructive sleep-disordered breathing is common in children. From 3 percent to 12 percent of children snore, while obstructive sleep apnea syndrome affects 1 percent to 10 percent of children.

The majority of these children have mild symptoms, and many outgrow the condition. Consequences of untreated obstructive sleep apnea include failure to thrive, bed wetting, attention-deficit disorder, behavioural problems, poor academic performance, and cardiopulmonary disease.

The more we know about the specific functions of sleep in children, the more we can encourage the timely treatment of sleep problems and the safe-guarding of sleep during childhood.


Good sleep is crucial to good health and longevity.

Dr. Stephen Bray 2019

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *