The One Thing You Might be Doing That is Increasing Your Belly Fat

Woman shocked with glasses

It’s time to realise that lifestyle habits are vital to fat gain

Life can be hectic. Working daily, family, social commitments, and perhaps some study during our spare time is hectic. Usually, every single day is overflowing with too much to do. What is the one thing we sacrifice to keep up? That’s a tiny little thing called “sleep,” although it’s not such a small thing. I’m guilty of this and have found a good balance, although it is not perfect. Sometimes I catch myself saying to others that there aren’t enough hours in the day for all the things I want to do. It’s a want — more than a need. I don’t need to do many things — and neither do you. It’s a choice. We could choose to put down that book, stop writing that story, or not stay up late watching TV. But then the guilt sets in. We won’t have enough time to get it all done — and the excuses consume our minds as overwhelm sets in. Lack of sufficient sleep is a behaviour choice, and that choice has become more prevalent. More than one-third of adults in the US routinely do not get enough sleep. This can be partly due to work shifts, social network surfing, gaming and perhaps good old Netflix during those sacred sleeping hours. However, one of the biggest problems is that longer waking hours encourage us to eat more food whilst being less active. A study was conducted on 12 healthy people, not obese, each spending two 21 day sessions in the inpatient setting. These participants were randomly assigned to a particular control group — normal sleep & restricted sleep, followed by a resetting break. Each person chose what food to eat throughout the study. Researchers then monitored each individual’s food intake, energy expenditure, weight, and composition, including visceral. Their appetite was also monitored throughout the study. During the first four days, the participants undertook an acclimation period. After that, they were allowed nine hours of sleep. Two weeks following this, their sleep was restricted to four hours — whilst a control group maintained nine hours. Finally, each group followed nine hours of sleep and recovery for three days and nights.


  • During sleep reduction, all participants consumed more than 300 calories per day!
  • The breakdown was approximately 13% more protein and 17% more fat
  • Food increase was highest during the first phase of sleep deprivation
  • The food increases seemed to taper off during the sleep recovery phase
  • The rate of expended energy stayed the same during the entire period

Virend Somers, MD, PhD, the Alice Sheets Marriott Professor, says: “Our findings show that shortened sleep, even in younger, healthy and relatively lean, is associated with increased caloric intake, a minimal increase in weight and a significant increase in fat accumulation inside the belly.” Normally, fat is preferentially deposited subcutaneously or under the skin. However, inadequate sleep redirects the fat to the more dangerous visceral compartment. Notably, although there was a decrease in caloric intake and weight during sleep, visceral fat increased. This suggests that inadequate sleep is a previously unrecognised trigger for visceral fat deposition and that catch-up sleep, at least in the short term, does not reverse visceral fat accumulation. Long time, these findings implicate inadequate sleep as a contributor to the epidemics of obesity and cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. 

Key takeaways

Dr Sommers sums this up well, stating that diet and exercise should be a priority for those who cannot avoid sleep deprivation in industries such as nursing. Small changes in both nutrition and exercise will help ward off chances of obesity, metabolic syndrome and diabetes. 

Healthy food options should include:

  • A variety of greens, veggies and fruit
  • Low caloric sources of protein
  • Staying as hydrated as possible
  • Eliminating refined sugars and carbs
  • Keeping your caloric burn rate up by visiting active daily
  • Having a training schedule and staying committed to lifelong exercise and healthy eating

If you are a shift worker, it’s more important than ever to guard yourself against the effects of sleep deprivation. In addition, keep your eye on any weight gain, and channel your efforts towards staying active and eating well for a lifelong habit that will keep you healthy and negate the harmful effects of weight gain. Please find the journal reference here: Effects of Experimental Sleep Restriction on Energy Intake, Energy Expenditure, and Visceral Obesity. 

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