Sleep Loss and Apetite

Portion control. The secret to good health, as some would say, is eating in moderation. Certain societies and cultures are often criticized for chronic over-portioning. Obviously, large portions can lead us to eating more than we might typically eat. If not paying attention to hunger signals, it is easy to over-stuff yourself if the food is right in front of you. But could there be a physiological reason why some of us just can’t control our portions? A lack of quality sleep has been previously tied to increased cravings, so might sleepiness cause us to consume larger portions? This would be an important question to answer, considering those with untreated sleep apnea often undergo many nights of poor quality sleep.

With this idea in mind, a team of researchers set out to see whether sleep deprived subjects are more likely to suffer from “portion-blindness” (my words, not theirs) compared with subjects who are not sleep deprived. The 16 subjects in this study underwent two experimental days and nights in a laboratory, both offering exactly the same food choices for each meal and snacks in between. Here’s the catch: one of these nights included no sleep. Hormone levels in the blood, sleepiness, self-reported cravings, and amount of food eaten were measured between groups and between nights.

Not surprisingly, results showed that the sleep deprived subjects had an overall higher portion size intake. Interestingly, subjects often chose larger snack portions than they did meal portions. In other words, the meal sizes weren’t necessarily larger, but their snack sizes were much larger than the group who had normal sleep. In addition, participants reported feeling hungrier after being sleep deprived than when not sleep deprived. This is not surprising, considering hormone levels of ghrelin, which is the hormone related to hunger cravings, was much higher in the sleep-deprived group1.

This study used an extreme example of sleep deprivation, as subjects underwent a full night without sleep. Although those with untreated sleep apnea are typically not sleep deprived to that extent, they do undergo chronic sleep deprivation, meaning it persists over months or, more often, many years. This build up of sleep deprivation can undoubtedly have similar effects to one night of sleep deprivation. Although it is nice that you can blame your extra scoop of ice cream on your sleep deprivation, it’ll hurt you in the long run. Luckily for those suffering from sleep apnea, treatment does improve quality of sleep to keep you from feeling sleep deprived and eating more healthily.



1. Hogenkamp PS, Nilsson E, Nilsson VC, Chapman CD, Vogel H, Lundberg LS, 1. Zarei S, Cedernaes J, Rångtell FH, Broman JE, Dickson SL, Brunstrom JM, Benedict C, Schiöth HB. Acute sleep deprivation increases portion size and affects food choice in young men. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2013 Feb 18. doi:pii: S0306-4530(13)00017-6. 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2013.01.012.
Janna Mantua


Janna is a PhD Student / Graduate Research Assistant at University of Massachusetts Amherst with a background in clinical sleep research and psychology. Janna Mantua is a PhD student in the Behavioral Neuroscience department at the University of Massachusetts. Her research focuses on sleep and aging, with specific projects on cognitive health, inflammation, memory formation, and neuroimaging. Prior to her PhD work, Janna was involved in research on sleep apnea and cognitive decline at the NYU Sleep Disorders Center.

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