A healthy diet and sufficient sleep are the allies of good health. Several studies have already proven the benefits of sufficient sleep for our health, but on the other hand, what happens when we lack sleep? Scientists have just discovered that lack of sleep is also linked to an increase in the accumulation of fat, more specifically abdominal fat.
The experiment which made it possible to observe this link saw the participation of 12 healthy and non-obese volunteers and lasted 21 days. Lack of sleep was found to be responsible for a 9% increase in total abdominal fat area and an 11% increase in abdominal visceral fat. Visceral fat accumulates deep inside the abdomen, around internal organs, and has been shown in studies to be linked to increased risk of heart and metabolic disease.
According to Virend Somers, cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, lack of sleep seems to redirect fat to the visceral compartment, which is more dangerous. Besides, it seems that a short-term catch-up sleep would not reverse the situation.
A revealing study
The participants were divided into two groups, one benefiting from 9 hours of sleep per night and the other from only 4 hours for 2 weeks. Three months later, the tests were repeated by swapping the groups. In addition to the accumulation of visceral fat, it seems that participants who slept less consumed more than 300 additional calories per day. They also absorbed about 13% more protein and 17% more fat. The energy expenditures, however, were the same.
Throughout the study, the team monitored energy intake and expenditure, body weight, body composition, fat distribution including belly fat, and appetite biomarkers.
The importance of adequate sleep
About one-third of adults in the United States don’t get enough sleep, most often because of work or the use of screen-based devices at night. However, good sleep contributes to the health of our brain functions such as memory, protects us from the risk of dementia, and keeps our body well hydrated. The present study thus shows that impaired sleep can have more direct consequences on our health.
In addition to ensuring that our sleep periods are regular and of sufficient duration, researchers recommend more physical activity and the consumption of healthy foods as ways to prevent the accumulation of abdominal fat.