Belly Fat Linked To Sleep Disorders

Wed, Nov 07, 2012

Numerous studies have found poor quality sleep leads to overeating and physiological changes that lead to heart disease, obesity, depression and Type 2 diabetes.  The ‘tricky’ part is that inadequate sleep actually disrupts the body’s balance and stimulates the appetite ... which leads to greater weight gain and consequently greater risks.  The good news is that the latest studies suggest a two way relationship between sleep disorders and weight gain – meaning improved sleep can help you lose weight, and losing weight can help you sleep better.

Independent scientific studies have consistently founds that sleep disorders are clearly linked to obesity and heavier individuals tend to report more problems getting a good night’s sleep.

Now, in a new study just released by researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. It has been reported that weight loss, either through diet or a combination of diet and exercise, can lead to better sleep.

The researchers followed 77 overweight or obese individuals with type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes over a 6 month period. At the start and end of the study, the participants completed surveys detailing their sleep problems such as sleep apn0ea, fatigue, insomnia, restless sleep, excessive sleep and use of sedatives.   Each participant’s body mass index (BMI) was also recorded so weight changes could be tracked.

The participants were then separated into two groups. The first group went on a weight-loss diet with exercise training and the second group simply stuck to a diet program.

At the end of the six months, both groups experienced a weight loss of about 15 pounds on average and a 15% reduction in belly fat. The researchers also authors found both groups had improved their sleep quality by about 20%.

“The key ingredient for improved sleep quality from our study was a reduction in overall body fat, and, in particular belly fat, which was true no matter the age or gender of the participants or whether the weight loss came from diet alone or diet plus exercise,” said study author Kerry Stewart, a professor of medicine at John Hopkins in a statement.

According to Stewart, belly fat is particularly concerning since it can be metabolically detrimental to health. “Belly fat is almost like a living organ. It produces proteins that cause inflammation,” says Stewart. “When you lose a lot of belly fat in particular, the level of those substances go way down and the inflammatory response is much less than it was before.”

"That means that rates of heart disease may decline as belly fat dissolves. Inflammation aggravates blood vessels, which can increase heart disease risk, and also  interfere more generally with the body’s normal physiological processes. The end result is obesity, and obesity in turn puts added mechanical pressure on the heart and lungs. “If you have a lot of belly fat, the lungs can’t expand as well, so it becomes harder to breathe when you’re sleeping, which is why more people get sleep apnoea,” says Stewart. “When you have sleep apnoea, you wake up more in the middle of the night and that leads to daytime sleepiness and fatigue. So people are feeling miserable because they haven’t had a good nights sleep.”

Shedding extra weight and increasing physical activity triggers a drop in inflammation, lowers insulin resistance and improves metabolism. “This can foster weight loss or prevent further weight gain,” says Stewart.

Whether sleep disorders cause obesity, or obesity causes sleep disorders isn’t clear, although it’s likely  both processes are at work simultaneously. “We are not exactly sure where the problem starts, but we think it is a vicious cycle. Regardless of where it starts, they feed off each other,” says Stewart.

If you are struggling to lose weight, it may be that an underlying sleep disorder like sleep apnoea is part of the problem.  If you are overweight, snoring, waking tired, and feeling sleepy through the day it is almost certain that you have an underlying sleep disordered breathing (SDB) condition.  Treatment of the SDB can help re-start the metabolism and reduce the risks associated with obesity.

If you think you have some sort of sleep disorder, give us a call on 1300 246 637 to talk things over with a friendly sleep therapist ... or request a sleep study online by clicking the button below.


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