(ORDO NEWS) — If you need another reason to make sure you get enough sleep every night, a new study has found that inadequate sleep is linked to increased fat storage – especially unhealthy belly fat.
The randomized experiment involved 12 healthy, non-obese volunteers for 21 days and found that lack of sleep in sleep-restricting participants was associated with a 9 percent increase in total belly fat area and an 11 percent increase in belly visceral fat.
This type of visceral fat accumulates deep in the abdomen around internal organs and has previously been associated with an increased risk of heart and metabolic disease.
While fat is normally stored under the skin by the body, sleep deprivation appears to move it deeper into visceral areas around organs, the researchers say, where it could potentially do more harm.
“Lack of sleep appears to redirect fat to the more dangerous visceral region,” says cardiologist Virend Somers of the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
“Importantly, although there was a decrease in calorie intake and weight during recovery sleep, visceral fat continued to increase.
This suggests that insufficient sleep is a previously unrecognized trigger for visceral fat deposition, and that catch-up sleep is at least in the short term, does not reverse visceral fat accumulation.”
During the experiment, the volunteers were divided into two groups, one of which received nine hours of sleep per night, and the other received only four hours of sleep over two weeks. Three months later, the tests were repeated, changing the participants in places.
In addition to differences in visceral fat accumulation, the researchers noticed that participants who slept less also consumed an average of more than 300 extra calories per day, getting about 13% more protein and 17% more fat. Energy costs remained virtually unchanged.
Throughout the study, the team tracked energy intake and expenditure, body weight, body composition, fat distribution (including intra-abdominal visceral fat), and circulating appetite biomarkers and some of the apparent biological changes would not have been noticed outside of full scientific evaluation, the researchers say.
“The accumulation of visceral fat was only detected by CT scans and would otherwise have been missed, especially since the weight gain was quite modest – only about a pound,” says first study author Naima Covassin, a cardiovascular medicine researcher at the Mayo Clinic.
“Weight alone could be false reassurance about the health consequences of insufficient sleep.”
The fact that belly fat accumulation is difficult to detect makes it even more dangerous. About a third of adults in the US do not get enough sleep on a regular basis, with factors such as shift work and late-night screen use exacerbating the problem.
We know that getting enough sleep is important for brain function, such as memory, keeping the body in good condition, protecting against dementia, and for many other reasons related to mental and physical health. This study shows that this may have other health implications as well.
In addition to making sure you get enough sleep regularly and enough, the researchers recommend increasing exercise and choosing healthy foods as ways to prevent belly fat accumulation.
“In the long term, these results indicate that sleep deprivation is contributing to the epidemic of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic disease,” Somers says.
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