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Inadequate sleep drives abdominal fat gains.

Visceral fat is body fat that is stored in the abdominal cavity near the liver, pancreas, and intestines. The accumulation of visceral fat is linked to type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, inflammatory diseases, certain types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other obesity-related conditions. Findings from a recent study suggest that not getting enough sleep increases the risk of developing excess visceral fat.

Sleep is essential for human health. Not getting enough sleep or having poor, fragmented sleep promotes the development of many chronic illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and depression. Scientists don’t fully understand the mechanisms that drive these effects, but some evidence suggests that disturbances in circadian rhythms play vital roles.

The trial involved 12 healthy young adults (aged 19 to 39 years) who engaged in an in-patient sleep study. Participants were allowed to have either a full night of sleep (nine hours of sleep opportunity) or restricted sleep (four hours of sleep opportunity) for two weeks. After a three-month washout period, participants repeated the study with the opposite sleep experience. The investigators measured the participants’ caloric intake, energy expenditure, body weight, body composition, and fat distribution throughout the study period.

They found that when participants were sleep-restricted, they consumed approximately 13 percent more protein and 17 percent more fat (translating to about 300 calories) daily, but their overall energy expenditure did not change. Sleep-restricted participants also gained weight. Much of this weight was in the abdominal area, with a 9 percent increase in total abdominal fat area and an 11 percent increase in visceral fat, compared to when they got a full night’s sleep.

These findings suggest that insufficient sleep increases caloric intake and promotes weight gain and visceral fat increases. Learn more about the harmful health effects of insufficient sleep in this episode featuring sleep expert Dr. Matt Walker.

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