How Sleep Deprivation Sends Fat to the Belly

How Sleep Deprivation Sends Fat to the Belly

Ever notice how groggy but also snacky we feel after we’ve had a poor night’s sleep?

Well, it’s not just our imagination. We do get more snacky and eat more. This can also lead to weight gain. A great article published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology just showed us how sleep deprivation ultimately leads to weight gain—that specifically lands around our waistlines.

When they compared participants with restricted sleep (4 hours per night) to participants with regular sleep (9 hrs per night), they found that restricted sleepers ended up eating more calories throughout the day and gained more weight over time.

What was especially interesting is where the fat ended up being deposited. Normally, fat is preferentially deposited into our subcutaneous fat (e.g the fat underneath our skin). However, weight gain after restricted sleep is re-directed to our more harmful visceral fat (e.g. belly fat). This is the fat that makes us vulnerable to conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. 

Even more interesting? “Catch-up sleep” did not reverse this belly fat deposition when restricted sleepers returned to regular sleepers (at least within the short duration of this study).

While this study was done on participants without overweight or obesity, it does highlight restricted sleep as an important risk factor for developing harmful-related weight gain.

It should also bring our attention to an underlying viscous cycle of weight gain when people with overweight or obesity develop obstructive sleep apnea (e.g fat build-up around our airways that interrupts sleep). Restricted sleep may not only be a catalyst for weight gain, but also a perpetuator within a vicious cycle of weight gain overtime.

At the end of the day, testing for and treating sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea play a foundational role in achieving weight loss success.

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