Sleep Linked to Gains in Abdominal Fat

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A recent study published in the journal SLEEP found that extremes of sleep duration are related to increases in abdominal fat in persons younger than 40 years old. Researchers found that persons sleeping less than five hours at night gained more abdominal fat over a five year period, versus those who averaged over six hours per night.

The study focused on African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans. Lead researcher Dr. Kristen G. Hairston, of Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina said the study focused on blacks and Hispanics because they are understudied and are at risk of obesity and related illnesses.

Regardless of ethnicity, weight gain to the point of obesity can increase your risk of diabetes and heart disease . The study found that short sleepers showed a 32 percent gain in visceral fat, versus a 13 percent gain among those who slept six or seven hours per night, and a 22 percent increase among men and women who got at least eight hours of sleep each night.

Although the study focused on persons 40 years or younger, the National Sleep Foundation’s own 2003 Sleep in America poll found that older adults are not exempt from the ill-effects of insufficient sleep. Some highlights from the poll were:

  • Inadequate sleep is associated with diabetes in older adults.
  • Sleep problems are common in older adults who are classified as obese or overweight.

The poll also found that about one-half of older adults exercise three or more times a week to improve their fitness. The more that older people exercise, the less likely they are to report sleeping poorly; we think that’s good advice for everyone.