Losing Sleep Could be Risk Factor for Weight Gain

 In Naturopathic News

Node Smith, ND

Sleep is generally known to be a prime regulator of metabolic processes, and lack of sleep has a multitude of negative effects on the body, both mentally and physically. A recent study looked at how a single night of sleep loss has a tissue-specific impact on certain genes that code for metabolism in humans. This research may help understand how shift work and chronic insomnia affects metabolism as well as the associations with chronic disease.

Risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes increased in individuals suffering from chronic sleep loss and shift workers

Previous studies have noted that the risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes is increased in individuals suffering from chronic sleep loss and shift workers. Other studies have found associations between disrupted sleep and adverse weight gain – fat accumulates as muscle mass decreases. The research has shown how metabolic processes that are regulated by skeletal muscle and adipose tissue are often dysfunctional when circadian rhythms are thrown off by sleep disturbances. Until now, however, it has been unclear whether sleep loss specifically can cause the molecular changes at the tissue level that cause an increase risk in adverse weight gain.

Researchers looked at 15 healthy normal-weight individuals

In this study, researchers looked at 15 healthy normal-weight individuals. Each individual was included in two lab sessions in which activity and meal patterns were standardized. In random order, the participants slept a normal night during one session, and were kept awake the entire night the other session. The morning after, a small biopsy was taken from subcutaneous fat and skeletal muscle. These tissue types often exhibit dysfunctional metabolism in conditions such as obesity and diabetes. Blood samples were also taken to measure blood sugar, fatty acids, and amino acids levels.

The tissue samples shown that sleep loss did result in tissue-specific changes in DNA methylation, which is a regulator of gene expression.

“Our research group were the first to demonstrate that acute sleep loss in and of itself results in epigenetic changes in the so-called clock genes that within each tissue regulate its circadian rhythm. Our new findings indicate that sleep loss causes tissue-specific changes to the degree of DNA methylation in genes spread throughout the human genome. Our parallel analysis of both muscle and adipose tissue further enabled us to reveal that DNA methylation is not regulated similarly in these tissues in response to acute sleep loss,” says Jonathan Cedernaes who led the study.


Cedernaes et al. Acute sleep loss results in tissue-specific alterations in genome-wide DNA methylation state and metabolic fuel utilization in humans. Science Advances. 2018.

Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Portland, OR and associate editor for NDNR. He has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine among the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend camp-out where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Four years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.

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