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The impact of sleep on obesity

October 9th, 2015 | Blog

Today I was reading on weight gain and weight control. As you know there is much concern about obesity in our culture.

One of our research projects looked into the weight and BMI (body mass index) of children from infants up to the age of 10 years whom I had looked after as babies. The major finding was that there was no evidence of obesity in this group and all of their BMI elevations related to their parents height and weight i.e. for the babies that we studied there appeared to be no increase in BMI apart from that caused by being born to tall parents.

Baby Boy Eating Fruit In High Chair

Research suggesting a link between sleep and obesity.

As I read further on the topic I came to an article on a proposed connection between poor sleep and obesity. The paper is entitled Short Sleep Duration Is Associated with Reduced Leptin, Elevated Ghrelin, and Increased Body Mass Index written by Shahrad Taheri et al. While the title may be a bit of a mouthful, what it said was that poor sleep increased the risk of obesity. As my aim is to improve infant sleep this was great news to me.

The mechanism of raised weight and therefore BMI was in part related to two hormones which impact upon appetite. With poor sleep there were elevated levels of the hormone ghrelin. This is produced by the stomach and increases appetite. Conversely poor sleep was associated with decreased leptin. This is a hormone which decreases appetite. Thus the stress of poor sleep has a negative impact on normal mechanisms for controlling appetite and thus weight and BMI.

The conclusion of the authors was that poor sleep, and specifically decreased total sleep, was increasing the risk of obesity in western communities.

This finding is consistent with my studies and life observations. Infants who sleep well seem to have less risk of obesity later in life. It would be unprofessional of me to suggest that high quality sleep is the answer to all of the issues of obesity. There is much more to it than sleep BUT what the authors above are saying and what I see in patients whom I have followed for many years is that high quality sleep is going to reduce the risk of obesity.

So again I commend the philosophy of improving infant sleep to you.

Best wishes and sleep well


Dr Brian Symon