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Non-technical summary

One of the proposed functions of sleep is to conserve energy. We determined the amount of energy conserved by sleep in humans, how much more energy is expended when missing a night of sleep, and how much energy is conserved during recovery sleep. Findings support the hypothesis that a function of sleep is to conserve energy in humans. Sleep deprivation increased energy expenditure indicating that maintaining wakefulness under bed-rest conditions is energetically costly. Recovery sleep after sleep deprivation reduced energy use compared to baseline sleep suggesting that human metabolic physiology has the capacity to make adjustments to respond to the energetic cost of sleep deprivation. The finding that sleep deprivation increases energy expenditure should not be interpreted that sleep deprivation is a safe or effective strategy for weight loss as other studies have shown that chronic sleep deprivation is associated with impaired cognition and weight gain.

Abstract

Sleep has been proposed to be a physiological adaptation to conserve energy, but little research has examined this proposed function of sleep in humans. We quantified effects of sleep, sleep deprivation and recovery sleep on whole-body total daily energy expenditure (EE) and on EE during the habitual day and nighttime. We also determined effects of sleep stage during baseline and recovery sleep on EE. Seven healthy participants aged 22 ± 5 years (mean ±s.d.) maintained ∼8 h per night sleep schedules for 1 week before the study and consumed a weight-maintenance diet for 3 days prior to and during the laboratory protocol. Following a habituation night, subjects lived in a whole-room indirect calorimeter for 3 days. The first 24 h served as baseline – 16 h wakefulness, 8 h scheduled sleep – and this was followed by 40 h sleep deprivation and 8 h scheduled recovery sleep. Findings show that, compared to baseline, 24 h EE was significantly increased by ∼7% during the first 24 h of sleep deprivation and was significantly decreased by ∼5% during recovery, which included hours awake 25–40 and 8 h recovery sleep. During the night time, EE was significantly increased by ∼32% on the sleep deprivation night and significantly decreased by ∼4% during recovery sleep compared to baseline. Small differences in EE were observed among sleep stages, but wakefulness during the sleep episode was associated with increased energy expenditure. These findings provide support for the hypothesis that sleep conserves energy and that sleep deprivation increases total daily EE in humans.