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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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April 06, 2008

When It Comes to Sleep, Average is Best

By Worker Bee
24 Comments

Sleeping too little – or too much – can increase your risk for future weight gain, according to a study published in the April 1 issue of the journal Sleep.

For the study, researchers from the Laval University in Quebec, Canada evaluated the sleep habits and body composition of 276 adults between the ages of 21 and 64.

After adjusting for age, gender and baseline body mass index (BMI) the researchers determined that across the six year study period, those who slept for five to six hours per night gained 1.98 kg (4.36 lbs) more than “average duration” sleepers who slept between seven and eight hours per night. Those who slept between nine and 10 hours per night, meanwhile, gained 1.58 kg (3.48 lbs) more than average duration sleepers. In addition, the researchers report that the risk of becoming obese was elevated for both short and long duration sleepers, with short duration sleepers experiencing a 27% increased obesity risk and long duration sleepers experiencing a 21% increased risk compared to average duration sleepers.

Commenting on the findings, the study’s lead author notes that it “provides evidence that both short and long sleeping times predict an increased risk of future body weight and fat gain in adults,” adding that the data “emphasize the need to add sleep duration to the list of environmental factors that are prevalent in our society and that contribute to weight gain and obesity.” Ultimately, he recommends that sleep habits be included alongside healthy eating and physical activity in discussions about how to manage the current obesity epidemic.

It seems that when we’re talking about sleep, we’re almost always focusing on the fact that we just can’t get enough! However, this study shows that too much of a “good” thing might not be all that good for you, with people who are snoozing away the better part of the day (college co-eds come to mind here!) perhaps actually doing themselves a disservice.

All in, it would seem that this study proves that sleeping is (yet another) item that should be added to the “everything in moderation” list of life!

bitzcelt, Nick Wilkes Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

Frequent Sleep Disruption Increases Risk of Kidney, Heart Disease

7 Tips to Get Out of Bed

How to Avoid Jet Lag

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24 Comments on "When It Comes to Sleep, Average is Best"

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Anna
8 years 5 months ago

Wonder how quality of sleep figures (apparently not measured in the study). I know when my sleep quality is poor, I crave more sleep time (and it doesn’t make up for the lack of good sleep).

Anna
8 years 5 months ago
Since I had a period of increasingly worse sleep a few years back I have been thinking about this a bit. “provides evidence that both short and long sleeping times predict an increased risk of future body weight and fat gain in adults,” adding that the data “emphasize the need to add sleep duration to the list of environmental factors that are prevalent in our society and that contribute to weight gain and obesity.” I’m not so sure *contribute* is the right word here. Correlation and association, perhaps. For instance, thyroid disorders (which is very common) as well as perimenopausal… Read more »
Barry
8 years 5 months ago

This is so stupid.

If you sleep less you’re awake more and thus you have more time in which to feel hungry and eat.

If you sleep more, you’re very likely lazy, slothful, etc., and so you probably also over-indulge in other areas, like food.

Duh.

Rosie
Rosie
8 years 5 months ago

It think it’s more likely that there is some underlying health issue that leads to both oversleeping and weight gain.

Dr. J
Dr. J
8 years 5 months ago

That man sleeping in the photo exhibits the classic “O” sign. If his tongue makes it a “Q.” be advised to begin resuscitation immediately.

charlotte
8 years 5 months ago

My thinking runs along Anna’s lines except I would add depression to the list. Both weight gain and sleep problems are associated with clinical depressive episodes. Although you run into a bit of a chicken-egg problem there.

Dr. J – will you please come to my next birthday party?? 😉

Kaitlin
8 years 5 months ago

I concur; when I was put on an antidepressant that also helped me sleep, I finally realized that the quality of sleep I had been getting for *years* was terrible, even though I was sleeping eight to ten hours at a time. Now I wake up and have energy; I don’t crave simple sugars in the morning and I don’t need naps in the afternoon. Making healthy lifestyle changes doesn’t seem so difficult. I’m looking forward to getting back into weightlifting.

sarena
8 years 5 months ago

“as perimenopausal and menopausal hormonal shifts can negatively impact sleep quality and duration, and both are associated with weight changes, for instance”

This one here seems to be my issue currently and I do not know where to go with it! Sleep has been disrupted the last few weeks and I appear to have put on a bit of weight as well, along with other symptoms. It sucks but I do not want to resort to meds. Thoughts???

Josh
8 years 5 months ago
I think I’ll agree with Barry’s assessment, the result seems obvious. People who sleep short amounts of time eat more often and people who sleep 9+ hours *probably* aren’t that active in the day (I don’t know anyone who has that much time to sleep on average who isn’t seriously ill). I think the sleep patterns are not the cause of the weight gain but more of a result of other factors. For the fitness-minded people the only reason I can see weight gain to occur if sleeping too much is that you’re in “starvation” too long. I knew some… Read more »
Migraineur
8 years 5 months ago

Correlation is not cause. Taubes has a plausible hypothesis that fatigue, excessive hunger, and obesity are symptoms of celluar starvation that stocks the fat cells at the expense of other body cells. So it makes sense that people whose body cells are starving would need more sleep.

I don’t have much to say about the correlation between less sleep and weight gain, other than to note that medications, clinical depression, and other factors might affect both insulin (the primary weight gain hormone) and sleep.

Anna
8 years 5 months ago
For about a decade (to age 44), increasingly I would wake in the night for no apparent reason and not be able to get back to sleep, which exhausted me during the day to the point that I dropped any responsibility & chore that wasn’t absolutely essential. I absolutely wasn’t burning the candle at both ends, but I felt like I was. I also used to wake suddenly and sit bolt upright with repeated violent “coughing fits” (I didn’t have any major allergies or respiratory infections), which would then keep me – and my husband- awake for hours. Sleeping in… Read more »
primalman
primalman
8 years 5 months ago
There is probably more than just correlation here and the results are not silly. Sleep deprivation (even mild deprivation) leads to increases in the hormone gherlin which is responsible for increases in appetite. At the same time, levels of leptin decrease following sleep disruption. Leptin is a hormone that leads to satiety. Disruption of sleep of otherwise normal sleeping adults has been shown to create the “munchies” often resulting in 500 kcal increase in consumption following day. Even 60-90 minutes of disruption can lead to this increase and people tend to go for salty, processed carbs. The hormones appear to… Read more »
Heather
Heather
8 years 5 months ago
I’m a 9-10 hour person (since I was little), sometimes I’ll go longer if I feel like it. I do have the kind of lifestyle that allows me to sleep as long as I want to, mostly because I’ve chosen that kind of lifestyle intentionally. I have few responsibilities beyond the basic bill-paying & house-cleaning (and a part time job), so I happily indulge in sleeping as much as I want to. So there are people who are not “seriously ill” and do have time to sleep that much. I would argue that many of the people who think they… Read more »
Anna
8 years 5 months ago
Heather, I think you make some great points. I sometimes will lay down and rest my eyes, but rarely can nap (if I do it messes with my night sleep, too). My husband is like you; he will sleep a lot if he can arrange it in his schedule. He is pretty much his own boss; he goes into work late several times a week to have a little nap in the morning and also on weekends. His work is such that he can do a lot at home, too. That was hard for me to adjust to at first,… Read more »
Heather
Heather
8 years 5 months ago
Thank you, Anna. Your last line is exactly how I feel. In the past I’ve felt like I was being “bad” somehow or should feel guilty for sleeping a lot, like there was something wrong with me or I didn’t deserve to waste time sleeping. Since living with my husband (9 years now) I’ve gotten over that because he’s never acted like my sleeping is a bad thing, and encourages me not to feel bad about it. He’ll even tell me to take a nap if he can tell that I’m in a bad mood or have a headache. I’m… Read more »
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[…] When It Comes to Sleep, Average is Best […]

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[…] talking about the suggested ceiling for sleep. A number of studies connect several downsides, including higher obesity and diabetes risk, to longer sleep duration (9-10 hours or more). The consensus seems to support […]

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5 years 7 months ago

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Storme
Storme
4 years 11 months ago

Hmmmm, well, this sounds interesting. I usually sleep about 8-9 hours during the week, and 10 hours or more on the weekend. Though I can’t say this has had an effect on my weight or anything. :/

Beth
Beth
4 years 10 months ago

I think it is interesting to note that teenagers often require more sleep than adults and that the amount of sleep needed is different for different stages of life as well, usually decreasing with age.

Circadian rhythm is also important. For example, perhaps those that slept too little or too much slept at different times of the day or in broken rhythms than the 7-8 hour sleepers? The number of hours don’t indicate the intervals.

Gary
4 years 7 months ago
this is all so very true! I been on cpap for a year now . I have lost 50 pounds walking and trying to be more active and eating what i thought was healthy .. since I have found this site and made the Primal change for life my a1c has come down. I feel great and am getting stronger everyday ! my sugar is more stable throught the day and I dont have those crazy cravings for junk ! I been eating about 2000 cals a day and feel full and satisfied. I am losing weight too! grainless and… Read more »
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[…] getting too much sleep is also problematic and could be making you fat so this is not a more is better […]

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4 years 22 days ago

[…] When It Comes to Sleep, Average is Best (Mark Sisson) […]

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[…] that might be taking place while the lights were still on somewhere. Now I get at least eight hours every night and embrace the idea that I am NOT wasting time, but am recharging the batteries and will […]

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