Yet another way a lack of sleep can harm your health. (Corbis)
We’re all well aware that a limited amount of shut-eye can cause a host of issues, including weight gain, low productivity and mood disorders. Now study authors from University of Colorado have discovered that a lack of sufficient sleep can reduce the body’s sensitivity to insulin, ultimately increasing the risk of diabetes.
Researchers analyzed the effects on good and poor quality sleep on a small study of 16 healthy adults. Half of the volunteers initially slept up to five hours a night for five days, in order to reenact a typical workweek. Then for the following five nights, they hit the hay for up to nine hours per night. The other group completed the 10-day test in the opposite order.
When the participants were living on the five-hour-a-night lifestyle, blood tests indicated they had a reduced sensitivity to insulin, which over time could increase the risk of getting diabetes. However, oral insulin sensitivity returned to normal during the longer nights of slumber—yet it wasn’t enough time to restore intravenous insulin sensitivity to baseline levels.
“We have a clock in our brain which controls 24-hour patterns in our physiology and behavior,” says lead study author Kenneth Wright Jr., PhD, professor of integrative physiology at CU-Boulder, in a press release. “It also controls the release of the hormone melatonin which signals our body that it’s night time.”
And a disruption in sleep, along with eating when the body should be sleeping, can impair this process. “The body has to release more insulin to keep blood sugar levels normal,” he adds. “Our bodies can adapt initially but over the long term they may not be able to sustain it.“
“This study is further proof that getting insufficient sleep is dangerous for overall health and contributes to the risk of several serious diseases, including diabetes,” Dr. Nitun Verma, a sleep specialist who is a spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Chief Medical Officer of PeerWell, tells Yahoo Health. “Adults should get seven or more hours of sleep per night to avoid the health risks of chronic inadequate sleep.”
He adds that previous research shows that “seven in 10 people with type 2 diabetes also have obstructive sleep apnea — a dangerous, potentially life-threatening condition that also increases the risk for obesity and heart disease.”
For those sleep challenged individuals, seeking therapy is key. “Long-term sleep apnea treatment will help diabetics manage their symptoms, including improving nighttime glucose levels and insulin sensitivity,” says Dr. Verma. “In fact, a University of Chicago study showed that treating sleep apnea with CPAP therapy may even have as much of an effect in some patients as prescribed oral diabetes medications.”
They’re not the only ones who think this information is vital. “Dr. Ken Wright is one of the finest sleep researchers in the world,” Dr. Micheal Breus, PhD, a Clinical Psychologist with a specialty in Sleep Disorders and author of The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan, tells Yahoo Health. “This data continues to emphasize the importance of sleep to the prevention and treatment of diabetes. More specifically—that sleep deprivation can in fact lead to insulin resistance—is of major importance.”