Researchers at the University of Chicago conducted an experiment to see what the effects of sleep deprivation are on our fat cells. They recruited several healthy individuals to sleep 2 weeks in a sleep lab. For the first week, the individuals were allowed to sleep for 8 1/2 hours per night. After this week was over, researches sampled their fat.
A month later, the participants came back to the sleep lab – but this time they were only allowed to sleep for 4.5 hours per night. Again, researchers sampled their fat.
Researchers found there was a significant difference in fat cells depending on the amount of time participants were able to sleep. After just 4 days of 4.5 hours of sleep per night, fat cells became less responsive to insulin. According to the researcher, “when fat cells start to become insulin resistant, lipids start to leach out of the fat cells and rise in the circulation,” Brady says. This can cause a whole host of problems, including weight gain, fatty liver disease and interference with the body’s ability to clear glucose (sugar) from the blood into the muscle. This is what sets the stage for the metabolic problems.
What’s Can We Learn?
Researches note that after participants went back to normal sleeping patterns, their fat cells returned to normal. However, the long-term effects of sleep deprivation may not be as forgiving. In addition to the problems above, research shows that sleep deprivation can lead to diabetes, liver disease and weight gain.
Make sleep a priority. Aim for at least 7 hours of shut eye each night. Turn off the TV and computer at least an hour before bed. Try some meditation or read a relaxing book in order to calm the mind and get ready for sleep.
Read NPR’s article on this study for more information.