Obesity and short sleep: unlikely bedfellows?


J Horne, Sleep Research Centre, Loughborough University, Loughborough, Leicestershire LE11 3TU, UK. E-mail: j.a.horne@lboro.ac.uk


The link between habitual short sleep and obesity is critically examined from a sleep perspective. Sleep estimates are confounded by ‘time in bed’, naps; the normal distribution of sleep duration. Wide categorizations of ‘short sleep’, with claims that <7 h sleep is associated with obesity and morbidity, stem from generalizations from 5 h sleepers (<8% of adults) and acute restriction studies involving unendurable sleepiness. Statistically significant epidemiological findings are of questionable clinical concern, even for 5 h sleepers, as any weight gains accumulate slowly over years; easily redressed by e.g. short exercise exposures, contrasting with huge accumulations of ‘lost’ sleep. Little evidence supports ‘more sleep’, alone, as an effective treatment for obesity. Impaired sleep quality and quantity are surrogates for many physical and psychological disorders, as can be obesity. Advocating more sleep, in these respects, could invoke unwarranted use of sleep aids including hypnotics. Inadequate sleep in obese children is usually symptomatic of problems not overcome by increasing sleep alone. Interestingly, neuropeptides regulating interactions between sleep, locomotion and energy balance in normal weight individuals, are an avenue for investigation in some obese short sleepers. The real danger of inadequate sleep lies with excessive daytime sleepiness, not obesity.