Lack of sleep and food causes unhealthy fat accumulation in the belly

March 30, 2022
Lack of sleep and food causes unhealthy fat accumulation in the belly

Insufficient sleep combined with increased calorie consumption – without increasing physical activity – leads to unhealthy fat accumulation: lack of sufficient sleep led to a 9% increase in total abdominal fat area and an 11% increase in abdominal visceral fat, according to investigators from the Mayo Clinic.

[Visceral fat is deposited deep inside the abdomen around internal organs and is strongly linked to cardiac and metabolic diseases.]

“Normally, fat is preferentially deposited subcutaneously or under the skin. However, inadequate sleep appears to redirect fat to the more dangerous visceral compartment,” said Dr. Virend Somers, a Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine, and principal investigator of a controlled crossover study.

The study cohort consisted of 12 healthy participants who each spent two 21-day sessions of normal or restricted sleep; and had access to free choice of food throughout the study. The investigators monitored and measured the necessary parameters, including the amount of visceral fat using a computed tomography scan, and circulating appetite biomarkers

The participants were observed to consume an excess of 300 extra calories per day during sleep restriction, eating approximately 13% more protein and 17% more fat, compared to the acclimation stage (all participants were allowed nine hours in bed to sleep).

The increase in calorie consumption was highest in the early days of sleep deprivation and then tapered off to starting levels during the recovery period. Meanwhile, energy expenditure stayed mostly the same throughout.

“Our findings show that shortened sleep, even in young, healthy and relatively lean subjects, is associated with an increase in calorie intake, a very small increase in weight, and a significant increase in fat accumulation inside the belly,” said Dr. Somers. “[…] catch-up sleep, at least in the short term, does not reverse visceral fat accumulation. In the long term, these findings implicate inadequate sleep as a contributor to the epidemics of obesity, and of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.”

He added that behavioural interventions, such as increased exercise and healthy food choices, need to be considered for people who face disruptive sleep – more study is needed to determine how these findings in healthy young people relate to people at higher risk, such as those who are already obese, or have metabolic syndrome, or diabetes.

Read: Teenagers consume more carbs and sugar when lacking sleep, say US researchers

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