A reduction of sleep time has become common over the last century, and growing evidence from both epidemiological and laboratory-based studies suggests sleep curtailment is a new risk factor for the development of obesity. On this basis, the present review examines the role of sleep curtailment in the metabolic and endocrine alterations, including decreased glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity, increased evening concentrations of cortisol, increased levels of ghrelin, decreased levels of leptin and increased hunger and appetite. It will be discussed how sleep restriction may lead to increase in food intake and result in greater fatigue, which may favour decreased energy expenditure. Altogether, evidences point to a possible role of decreased sleep duration in the current epidemic of obesity and therefore present literature highlights the importance of getting enough good sleep for metabolic health. Many aspects still need to be clarified and intervention studies also need to be conducted. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.