Studies have been linking short sleep duration and weight gain in children and adults. Increased food consumption is thought to be responsible for this - short sleepers have more time awake to eat, especially at night. However, there is great variability in weight gain amongst short sleepers. A study was published in the Journal Sleep about short sleepers, disinhibited eating habits, and weight gain. Disinhibited eating examples include eating in response to a negative mood (emotional eating), overeating when others are eating, not being able to resist eating, and overeating because the food tastes good, rather than because of hunger.
The study participants consisted of 276 adults, aged 18 - 64 years old, who were followed for six years. They were nonsmokers, had stable body weight over the 6 months preceding testing, and have no metabolic disease (like diabetes or high blood pressure) or be on any medication that could confound the results. The participants were asked how many hours they slept per night, and divided into short sleeper (<6 hours per night), average sleeper (7-8 hours per night), and long sleeper (>9 hours per night). Disinhibited eating behavior was assessed via a validated eating questionnaire.
The results showed that those participants with high disinhibited eating patterns significantly increased their risk of overeating and gaining weight if they also had short sleep duration. As expected there was a relationship between increased total amount of food eaten and high disinhibited eating pattern. Interestingly, this relationship was only seen in short sleepers, and not seen in average and long sleepers.