A growing body of observational evidence suggests that short sleep duration is a risk factor for the development of obesity. Although increased energy intake is the most prevailing causal explanation for this association, we should also consider possible effects on energy metabolism to understand fully the potential impact of short sleep duration on the regulation of energy balance. We performed a search of the literature from 1970 to 2011, including original papers, investigating the relation between short sleep and energy metabolism in animals and humans. Although the limited number of experimental studies in humans precludes any definitive conclusions about causality, short sleep duration does not seem to substantially affect total daily energy expenditure, nor is there sufficient evidence in support of any meaningful effect of restricted sleep on the specific components of energy metabolism (i.e. resting metabolic rate, intentional as well as unintentional physical activity, diet-induced thermogenesis, and substrate utilization). As studies on rats suggest that other factors that can potentially influence energy metabolism could be affected (i.e. hormonal systems and thermoregulation), we included these factors in our literature search and found some indications in support of an up-regulation of thyroid hormones and glucocorticoids as well as increased heat dissipation following total or severe sleep deficit. Although we found some evidence also in humans that suggests a possible effect on energy metabolism, the limitations of the studies make it difficult to draw conclusions on the effect of short sleep on energy metabolism under relevant free living conditions. To explore this area further, more studies using suitable methodology under relevant conditions to mimic real-life situations are needed.