Insufficient Sleep Could Be Making You Fat, A New Study Finds

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Researchers found that participants in a study who were sleeping an average of six hours a night had a waist measurement that was 3 centimeters more than individuals who logged nine hours of sleep per night. Suzanne Plunket/Reuters

Adults who have poor sleep patterns are more likely to be overweight and obese, and have poorer metabolic health, a new study has found.

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Researchers from the Institute of Cardiovascular and Metabolic Medicine at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom found that individuals who were sleeping an average of six hours a night had a waist measurement that was 3 centimeters more than individuals who logged nine hours of sleep each night. The study, recently published in journal PLOS One, involved 1,615 adults, ages 19 to 65, in Great Britain who reported how long they slept and kept records of food intake.

“Because we found that adults who reported sleeping less than their peers were more likely to be overweight or obese, our findings highlight the importance of getting enough sleep,” Dr. Laura Hardie, lead researcher, told Science Daily.

The team not only looked at the links between sleep duration, diet and weight, but also other indicators of overall metabolic health, including blood pressure, blood cholesterol, blood sugar and thyroid function. In addition, researchers took into account a participant’s age, ethnicity, sex, smoking and socioeconomic status.

The findings support previous evidence that associates short sleep with an increased risk of metabolic diseases, like diabetes. Short sleep is increasingly common in many countries, and studies have consistently linked short sleep to Type 2 Diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome.

The researchers say about 415 million adults between the ages of 20 and 70 years had diabetes worldwide in 2015, including undiagnosed cases. And in the U.K., about 24,000 individuals die prematurely each year as a result of the disease.

The research team also found that shorter sleep was linked to reduced levels of HDL “good” cholesterol in the blood. The decrease may cause health problems because this type of cholesterol protects against conditions such as heart disease.

Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that one in three Americans don’t get enough shut-eye. And some research shows sleeping later just on the weekends—known as “social jet lag”—could increase one’s chance of heart disease, as well as fatigue and worsened mood.

Sleep needs vary by individual, but most adults function best with between seven and nine hours a day. And it turns out your waistline may be more affected when you sleep just six hours per night.