Losing Sleep Over the Holidays? Maybe It’s All in Your Gut

by Cherise Tasker

A study released in November 2012 by Johns Hopkins found that weight loss in those who are overweight or obese led to improved quality of sleep. Investigators found that decreasing belly fat, through diet or a combination of diet and exercise, led to a decrease in complaints such as daytime fatigue, insomnia, restless sleep and dream disorders. The study participants were 36 to 65 years of age and were prediabetic or currently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. The study concluded that a reduction in abdominal subcutaneous fat was the factor most strongly associated with participants reporting improved sleep.

To understand weight lose in the abdominal area, it is important to know that there is fat below the skin (subcutaneous) and around vital internal organs (visceral). In working to decrease belly fat, one wants to decrease both subcutaneous and visceral fat. Subcutaneous fat is the fat one can “see,” the so-called “pear-shaped” weight accumulation. Visceral fat is that which accumulates around the heart, lungs, digestive tract organs and pelvic organs, the “apple-shaped” areas of weight gain. Visceral fat is significant because increased amounts are associated with higher levels of total and LDL cholesterol, which contribute to cardiovascular disease. Visceral fat accumulations are also linked to increases in insulin resistance. When the body becomes more resistant to insulin, glucose cannot be handled properly and the risk for diabetes rises.

So what are some proven ways to lower the amount of belly fat? Both aerobic and strength-training exercise help decrease excess subcutaneous and visceral fat. Aerobic activities including walking, jogging, cycling and dance are especially effective in lowering body-fat percentage. Abdominal exercises such as situps and crunches are effective both in improving physical appearance and in increasing muscle mass. Multiple studies have shown that increasing the fiber in one’s diet corresponds to a decrease in visceral fat. Good high-fiber food choices include apples, raspberries, avocados, artichokes, broccoli, peas, beans, lentils, bran cereal and almonds. Limiting fat intake and increasing the amount of plant-based food in the diet is recommended.

The Howard County Library System has an outstanding collection of health, fitness, nutrition and weight loss books, audio books and DVDs. Our cookbook collection has numerous titles specifically aimed at eating well by eating healthy meals. Please check out our Health Education Center at the Central Branch with titles including The Lean Belly Prescription: The Fast and Foolproof Diet & Weight-Loss Plan From America’s Top Urgent-Care Doctor; The Mayo Clinic Diet: Eat Well, Enjoy Life, Lose Weight and The New Abs Diet: The 6-Week Plan to Flatten Your Stomach and Keep You Lean for Life.


Cherise Tasker is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the Central Branch and has a background in health information. Most evenings, Cherise can be found reading a book, attending a book club meeting, or coordinating a book group.