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Leptin and Ghrelin: Linking Sleep Deprivation to Weight Gain

Guest Post Courtesy Labrix Clinical Services

belly-2354_1920Weight gain and difficulty sleeping are two of the most common complaints that health care providers hear. Could they be connected? Patients are often frustrated when they continue to struggle with weight gain despite taking their supplements, eating a healthy diet, and exercising. There are many possible contributing factors for weight difficulty beyond diet and exercise from hormone imbalance to genetics, and the link between sleep and weight is frequent fodder for magazines and social media articles, but what are some of the specifics of this connection? Two rarely heard of hormones that are implicated in this relationship are leptin and ghrelin. With the appropriate amount of sleep, these two hormones keep each other in balance, although sleep disruption can cause fluctuations that result in appetite and metabolism changes.

Leptin is often touted as the “satiety hormone”, as it inhibits hunger. With adequate sleep, leptin levels are robust and contribute to the maintenance of a healthy metabolism and appetite control; whereas poor sleep contributes to lower leptin levels. Evolutionarily leptin levels would be increased during the winter when nights are long (more opportunity for sleep) and there is a reduction in available food. Higher leptin levels lead to suppression of appetite and a reduction in energy expenditure.

Conversely, ghrelin might be considered the “hunger hormone,” as elevated levels increase appetite, decrease calorie burning, and promote the storage of fat. Ghrelin levels are suppressed with sufficient sleep, and during sleep deprivation, they increase and signal the body to consume more calories and reduce energy expenditure. Evolutionarily, ghrelin would be higher in the summer when there is more light, less sleep, and an abundance of food signaling hunger in an attempt to store fat for the winter.

In short, with sleep deprivation, ghrelin levels rise and stimulate appetite while leptin levels drop, which also increases appetite and contributes to obesity. Adequate sleep promotes the healthy production of leptin and limits the production of ghrelin, contributing to satiety and regulating metabolism. And while the importance of adequate sleep is well established, an estimated 50-70 million US adults have a sleep or wakefulness disorder. For those in this population suffering from insomnia, difficulty falling asleep or difficulty staying asleep, adrenal dysfunction and neurotransmitter imbalances may be contributory or even causative. Assessing your patient’s adrenal function and neurotransmitter levels is simple and accurate with Labrix’ NeuroAdrenal panel. Additionally, Labrix offers FindWhy DNA testing, a simple cheek swab that assesses multiple genetic contributions to weight struggles. One of the genetic markers included in the panel, SH2B1, gives an indication of one’s ability to regulate insulin and leptin systems, as people who are SH2B1 deficient often have insufficient leptin levels.

Learn more about sleep, metabolism and weight management (among many other clinical topics) at Labrix Advanced Workshop on January 16 and 17, 2016 in Las Vegas. Labrix co-founders Jay Mead MD and Erin Lommen ND, along with staff physicians and special expert guests will present 2 days of in-depth research, testing options and treatment protocols associated with common and difficult clinical cases. Register and reserve your seat today!


  • Taheri, Shahrad et al. “Short Sleep Duration Is Associated with Reduced Leptin, Elevated Ghrelin, and Increased Body Mass Index.” Ed. Philippe Froguel. PLoS Medicine 1.3 (2004): e62. PMC. Web. 4 Nov. 2015.
  • Ren, Decheng et al. “Neuronal SH2B1 Is Essential for Controlling Energy and Glucose Homeostasis.” Journal of Clinical Investigation 117.2 (2007): 397–406.PMC. Web. 4 Nov. 2015.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Accessibility verified 11/4/2015.

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