Lack of sleep linked to more belly fat, study finds

It’s no secret that a lack of sleep makes you more hungry and can lead to weight gain, but a new study by the Mayo Clinic shows where that weight is going and why it’s making you fatter.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic chose 12 healthy participants between 19 and 39 years old and divided them into two groups: one with restricted sleep of four hours per day and the other with nine hours of sleep.

Energy levels remained the same for both groups over a three-week period, researchers said, but the participants who slept less ate about 300 calories more per day and gained about 1.1 pounds.

RELATED: Advice for sleep-deprived parents

Although total body fat percentages were equal for both groups, the group who slept less recorded more visceral fat, the fat that wraps around your abdominal organs, than those who slept more. According to scientists at Harvard University, the chemicals released by visceral fat can increase your risk of heart disease, high cholesterol and insulin resistance.

Sleep deprivation is also known to weaken the immune system, making you more vulnerable to illnesses and taking longer to recover when you get sick.

RELATED: Is it safe to take melatonin as a sleep aid?

The study’s conclusion - that a lack of sleep is directly linked to more belly fat - supports growing scientific evidence that sleep deprivation causes obesity, researchers said. This study, however, was the first to examine how it affects body fat distribution.