Extremes of Sleep Related to Increased Fat around Organs

Not getting enough sleep can cause fat to accumulate around your organs, researchers say.

A new study by researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine reveals how extremes of sleep – both too much and too little – can be hazardous to your health – especially for young minority women, a group most affected by obesity and chronic metabolic disease. The findings also indicate that there’s more to “fat” than what we choose to eat – social factors such as the need to work three jobs in a bad economy – could be causing dangerous fat deposition around vital organs.

“We put a lot of stock in diet,” Kristen G. Hairston, MD, MPH, an assistant professor of endocrinology and metabolism and lead author on the study, said in a news release. “But this study brings up some interesting questions about the way we live. We may need to start looking at other behaviors – besides daily food choices – that could be contributing to the obesity epidemic in younger age groups.”

In individuals younger than 40 years old, the study showed a clear association between averaging 5 hours or less of sleep each night and large increases in visceral fat, or fat around the organs. Of the study participants younger than 40 years old, Hispanic men and black women were the largest groups to report getting such little sleep.

Short sleep has become more common in the United States and minorities are disproportionately affected, Hairston, an affiliate of the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity, part of the School of Medicine, said. They are also more prone to metabolic conditions, including increased rates of obesity, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. The study suggests that part of the explanation for higher rates of metabolic disease in this population may lie in the association between sleep duration and fat deposition.

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