Does increasing sleep time reduce desire for certain food types?

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By Dr. Simon Kyle

Several epidemiological and experimental studies have reported a link between reduced sleep time and weight gain. Studies have also begun to elucidate possibly mechanisms, including altered brain responses to food stimuli, increased desire for high-calorie foods, and alterations to metabolic hormones. A recent study has attempted to address the question from the opposite perspective: does increasing sleep time in real-life conditions reduce desire for certain food types?

The small pilot study, published in the journal Appetite, recruited 10 overweight males (who habitually slept less than 6.5 hrs) and asked them to extend their bedtimes to 8.5 hours per night over a 2 week period. Participants wore an actigraph watch for a week prior to the intervention confirming short sleep duration, sleeping on average 5.5 hours. The “intervention” involved education on sleep hygiene and the implementation of earlier bedtimes in order to extend sleep. Data on morning appetite, sleepiness and sleep quality and timing, was collected during the one week baseline period and during the 2 week intervention period to permit comparisons.

Main findings revealed an increase of total sleep time by approximately 1.5 hours to over 7 hours, supporting that the intervention was adhered to. In addition, participants during the intervention period reported feeling less sleepy, having more energy and experienced less desire for sweet and salty foods. There were no effects for other food types (e.g. starchy foods, fruit and veg). Actigraphy data also showed that participants tended to be more active during the daytime during the intervention period.

While this was an uncontrolled study with a small sample, the authors note that “Future intervention studies of longer duration with robust assessments of energy balance and metabolism under free-living conditions are warranted to investigate whether obtaining adequate sleep, which could be implemented in clinical scenarios, is an effective strategy to reduce metabolic risk and to improve the success of adherence to lifestyle regimens for the prevention and treatment of obesity and diabetes.”

Tasali, E., Chapotot, F., Wroblewski, K., Schoeller, D. (2014). The effects of extended bedtimes on sleep duration and food desire in overweight young adults: a home-based intervention. Appetite, 80, 220-224.

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