Compared to a few decades ago, adults, as well as children, sleep less. Sleeping as little as possible is often seen as an admirable behavior in contemporary society. However, sleep plays a major role in neuroendocrine function and glucose metabolism. Evidence that the curtailment of sleep duration may have adverse health effects has emerged in the past 10 years. Accumulating evidence from both epidemiologic studies and well-controlled laboratory studies indicates that chronic partial sleep loss may increase the risk of obesity and weight gain. The present chapter reviews epidemiologic studies in adults and children and laboratory studies in young adults indicating that sleep restriction results in metabolic and endocrine alterations, including decreased glucose tolerance, decreased insulin sensitivity, increased evening concentrations of cortisol, increased levels of ghrelin, decreased levels of leptin and increased hunger and appetite. Altogether, the evidence points to a possible role of decreased sleep duration in the current epidemic of obesity. Bedtime extension in short sleepers should be explored as a novel behavioral intervention that may prevent weight gain or facilitate weight loss. Avoiding sleep deprivation may help to prevent the development of obesity, particularly in children.
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