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Your Healthy Family: Study links short sleep to unhealthy belly fat

Posted at 8:17 AM, Apr 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-26 06:41:06-04

A new study is finding a link between unhealthy belly fat and the amount of sleep you get each night.

The study says if you're losing sleep at night, you may be gaining weight.

"Insufficient sleep can influence our eating behavior, making us eat more and consume foods especially high in carbohydrates and fat," Dr. Naima Covassin, who led the study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, said.

Dr. Covassin is a Cardiovascular Medicine Researcher with Mayo Clinic. She said lack of sleep makes us snack more frequently, especially in the evenings. That excess in calories can lead to weight gain. Dr. Covassin said short sleep may alter the hormones that regulate appetite, and increase the the ones that make us hungry, while decreasing the ones that make us feel full. She said after two weeks of short sleep, the study's participants noticed a difference.

"Not only an increase in body weight, but specifically an increase in belly fat,” she said.

The increases were in both types of fat: subcutaneous fat, which is just under the skin, and the more dangerous visceral fat, which is the fat in your abdominal cavity around your internal organs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says visceral fat can increase your risk for heart disease, stroke and other serious health conditions, like diabetes.

"We hope that people will recognize the implications of insufficient sleep for weight management and for obesity risk, even for young, healthy, lean people," Dr. Covassin said.

She said even a small increase in visceral fat over time can have a big impact on your health.

For adults, Dr. Covassin recommends at least seven hours of sleep each night.