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Body Fat and Sleep Paterns

I recently read an article about how extremes of sleep-–both too much and too little-–can be hazardous to your health. The study done by the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, seems to indicate 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.

To me, this confirms the need to value "balance" in one's life in order to really live life well. The study showed a clear association between averaging five hours or less of sleep each night and large increases in visceral fat (the kind of fat around the organs). While short sleep has become more common in the U.S. what I find unusual is that minorities seem to be disproportionately affected.

According to this study, minorities are also more prone to metabolic conditions, including increased rates of obesity, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. The study further 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.

But, just when I thought I had a free ticket to sleep the day away, I find that excessive sleep won't do much to better one's health, either.

Researchers found that getting more than eight hours of sleep on average per night has a similar-–though less pronounced-–effect and is a problem most commonly seen in Hispanic women of all ages. There's one positive note (at least for me and those my age or older); the connection between extremes of sleep and accumulation of visceral fat was seen only in patients younger than age 40. Woo-Hoo for being older! ; )

While researchers don't quite know why this phenomenon wasn't seen in participants over 40, it seemed very clear that, if you are under 40, it is worse to get five or less hours of sleep on average each night than it is to get eight or more hours. The study appears in the March issue of Sleep, the journal of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC.

The study raised important social questions regarding the reasons why getting little sleep had such a greater impact on minorities younger than age 40. The answer may depend on finding the specific circumstances contributing to their sleep patterns and likeliness to develop obesity and chronic disease.

One thing the article made clear was that while fluctuations in sleep patterns (getting too much or too little) may be detrimental to overall health, in general, people should aim for six to eight hours of sleep each night.

Remember: "Wellness is not a luxury, it's a necessity."

Live Life Well,

John Aaron Villarreal


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