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The Connection Between Sleep, Diabetes, and Obesity

March 13, 2023

Poster for video Sleep and Weight Management with Brian Wojeck, MD, MPH

It’s obvious that sleep is important to everyday health, but did you know that it also plays an important role in managing weight?

“When it comes to diabetes and obesity, poor sleep is often a factor,” says Brian Wojeck, MD, MPH, a Yale Medicine endocrinologist.

Data suggests that sleep disruption affect glycemia, or blood sugar levels, which is relevant because diabetes is a disease in which there is too much sugar in the blood, Dr. Wojeck explains.

Also, he says, “there's good data to suggest that sleep has an effect on obesity,” he says.

That’s because sleep deprivation can create an imbalance in the hormones that regulate your appetite—ghrelin and leptin. Leptin helps you feel full; ghrelin makes you feel hungry. Leptin levels typically rise during sleep, so if you aren’t getting enough sleep, your leptin levels decrease, so you feel hungrier and are, therefore, likelier to eat excessively and gain weight. Likewise, sleep disruptions of any kind can cause an increase in ghrelin, Dr. Wojeck says.

“As a result, people who are more sleep-deprived tend to gain weight for those physiologic reasons,” Dr. Wojeck says, adding that diabetes can then be a result of both the increase of blood sugar and ghrelin.

Sleep, obesity, and diabetes are all linked, and improvements to one aspect can benefit others. For example, significant weight loss can treat and, in some cases, eliminate sleep apnea, a disruptive sleep disorder in which breathing stops and starts at night. Sleep apnea is common among those with obesity.

In the video above, Dr. Wojeck discusses how weight and sleep are related.