How Sleep Affects Your Weight: A HealthCentral Explainer

A recent study published in The FASEB Journal looked at impairments to the Rev-Erb alpha gene, which is known to be responsible for our internal body clocks. The researchers found that this can lead to excessive weight gain and other related health issues, such as diabetes. This suggests that your risk of weight gain increases if your body’s internal timing and external light cycles aren’t in sync.

How was the study done?

Researchers at the University of Strasbourg in Pascal, France studied two groups of mice - one was normal and the other lacked the Rev-Erb alpha gene. They found that the mice lacking the gene not only became obese and hyperglycemic even if they ate the same quantity of food at the same time as the other mice, but that they also metabolized food differently. The mice lacking the gene created significantly more fat, specifically during the feeding period, than the normal mice, and also burned up fewer carbs when at rest.

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What do the findings mean?

According to the Journal, the findings suggest that humans evolved to live in alignment with the natural cycles of light and dark on our planet. Also, researchers said that changes in daily rhythms, such as shift-work, artificial lighting or jet lag can have far-reaching effects on health, so we should be very conscious of maintaining or restoring our sleep rhythm with natural light cycles. Avoiding late night meals and frequent light exposure at night can help stave off weight gain.

What does this mean for maintaining a healthy weight?

This study suggests that sleep may be just as important as diet and exercise in maintaining a healthy weight, or losing weight. And minimizing disruptions in circadian rhythm, such as bright light in your bedroom when you’re trying to sleep at night or a frequently altered sleep schedule, can minimize your risk of developing weigh-related problems such as diabetes and obesity.

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How do computers and other LCD screens affect sleep?

Another factor to consider is the blue light being emitted from our TVs, laptops, smart phones and ipads. A John’s Hopkins article published in 2010 explains that blue light keeps us alert and stimulated, and as we use these devices later into the night, it causes sleep problems such as insomnia. Keeping these blue light devices out of the bedroom and consciously not using them before bedtime would help people get back on track with their sleep schedule.

What are some other ways to minimize sleep disruptions?

In addition to minimizing light disruptions, there are several other factors that can help you get a good night’s sleep. Having a firm mattress and a pillow that works for your individual preference will go a long way. Noise can be a big problem, such as neighbors, barking dogs or traffic sounds. Wearing earplugs can be useful to drown out the noise, but some people prefer listening to soothing music or nature sounds or white noise. Temperature is another important sleep factor. Keeping your bedroom cool at night is ideal for sleep. Turn on the air conditioning or open the window to get a comfortable temperature, but don’t make it so cold that you are shivering. Being too cold at night causes the same disruptions as being too hot.


Federation of American Societies for Experimental. (2012, May 8). "New Research Explains How Proper Sleep Is Important For Healthy Weight." Medical News Today. Retrieved from

Johns Hopkins Health. (2010, July 7). “Lights Out for Sleep.” Johns Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved from

HealthCentral. (2010, July 20). “Your Sleep Comfort Zone.” Retrieved from

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The HealthCentral Editorial Team

HealthCentral's team of editors based in New York City and Arlington, VA, collaborates with patient advocates, medical professionals, and health journalists worldwide to bring you medically vetted information and personal stories from people living with chronic conditions to help you navigate the best path forward with your health—no matter your starting point.