Sleep Deprivation Could Spur Hormonal Changes Linked With Obesity, Review Finds

10/26/2012 09:11 am ET

Getting less than a full-night's rest could provoke hormonal changes in your body that are linked to obesity, according to a new review of research published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Researchers from the Pennsylvania State University analyzed studies looking at the impact of sleep deprivation on weight and energy balance that were published between 1996 and 2011. They found in several studies that getting fewer than six hours of sleep a night is linked with increases in the hunger-stimulating hormone ghrelin, decreases in insulin sensitivity (a risk factor for diabetes) and decreases in the hormone leptin (which is key for energy balance and food intake).

"The intriguing relationship between partial sleep deprivation and excess adiposity makes partial sleep deprivation a factor of interest in body weight regulation, particularly in weight loss," study researcher Dr. Sharon M. Nickols-Richardson, Ph.D., M.D., a professor at Penn State, said in a statement.

The analysis is based on the findings of 18 articles that had been previously published between 1996 and October 2011. The researchers only looked at studies that examined partial sleep deprivation -- meaning the study participants still slept, just not a full-nights' worth -- but not total sleep deprivation.

"Partial sleep deprivation may influence appetitive hormones, such as ghrelin and leptin, that aid in the regulation of appetite and body weight. Because weight loss also produces alterations in ghrelin and leptin to increase hunger, this may be compounded by the effects of partial sleep deprivation," researchers wrote in the study.

Recently, a study in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine showed that even the body's fat cells need sleep in order to properly process insulin, Scientific American reported. The findings provide even more evidence that sleep is vital to our metabolisms.

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