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Issue 203: Tired Fat Cells Fallout

Tired Fat Cells Fallout

Adequate sleep has such restorative and healthy returns, but if you come up short on getting enough sleep, then you could be headed towards trouble. And, if the stats are correct, there are a lot of us heading into trouble.

Here are some sleep facts you might be interested in:

  • Nearly 70 million Americans are affected by a sleep problem.
  • “Depressing” news for women: studies indicate that women need approximately one additional hour of sleep, as compared to men, and, if they do not get that extra rest, they may be more prone to depression. 
  • Parents of newborns can lose anywhere from 400 to 750 hours of sleep during the first year of the baby’s life.
  • They may be young, but 18- to 24-year olds perform more poorly when sleep deprived than do their older adult counterparts.
  • Sleepy . . . and driving? Fifty-one percent of Americans said they had driven while being drowsy and 17 percent of them said they had actually fallen asleep at the wheel.
  • Jet lag at work? Shift workers may experience symptoms that resemble jet lag. 
  • Sleep quality and quantity directly affect your mood, and your mood directly affects your sleep quality and quantity.
  • Teens require anywhere from 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep—not as much as an infant does, but more than the average adult does.
  • If you average only four hours of sleep a night, your brain might react as if you have not slept at all for three consecutive nights.
  • Many of us are too tired to realize how sleep-deprived we are, but it shows in our slower reaction time, a weakened memory and other mental impairments.

You probably already know that lack of sleep can adversely affect your immune system, cardiovascular system, blood sugar, brain function, mood and weight. And here’s a “Captain Obvious” observation:  you feel worn out when you don’t get enough shut-eye because you are worn out! 

In fact, did you know that your fat cells can get tired, too? It’s true.

A team of researchers at the University of Chicago tested fat cells from the bellies of seven lean, healthy young adults after they had four nights of sleeping up to 8.5 hours and then again after four nights of sleeping only 4.5 hours. Interestingly, the scientists discovered that after sleep deprivation, the fat cells from the same person were, on average, 30 percent less responsive to insulin, the hormone that makes muscle, liver and fat cells take up glucose after eating. High blood glucose levels, of course, are linked to diabetes and more unhealthy outcomes, including weight gain and more.  

One of the study’s authors, Matthew Brady, the Vice Chair of the Committee on Molecular Metabolism and Nutrition at the University of Chicago, explains, “Insulin promotes release of leptin, so if your fat cells are less insulin-sensitive, you will make less leptin, which is associated with an increase in food consumption and weight gain." Brady continues, “We were surprised at how robust the response was. Four nights of sleep curtailment represents a real-world situation such as studying for final exams, having a newborn in the house or working extra hours from your job.”

Oftentimes, fat is thought of as the bad guy, but some fat "is your friend," Brady points out. "When fat cells are functioning properly, they safely store fat away for future use such as when you are sleeping or exercising. Fat cells remove fatty acids and lipids from circulating in the body and keep them from damaging other tissues. But when your fat cells stop responding to insulin properly, then lipids leave the fat cells and leach out into your blood." That allows lipids to accumulate in other tissues, such as the liver, he adds. 

Brady bottom lines it for us, “Our fat cells need sleep to function properly. If you’re sleep deprived, your brain may feel groggy, and it turns out that your fat cells also need sleep or they are metabolically groggy.”

Enough said.

Make sure you—and your fat cells—get adequate sleep.


This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

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