Here’s why catching up on sleep may help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes

by Barbara Hewitt on January 19, 2016

Catching up on sleep at the weekends may help to regulate blood sugar levels and therefore reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, a new study suggests.

It has long been known that long term sleep deprivation can be harmful to health and linked to risk of diabetes because of how it affects the way the body handles sugar levels.

Sleep-StudyThe new study shows that a group of young men given just 4.5 hours sleep for four nights and then allowed to sleep longer for two nights were able to bring their blood sugar back under control.

The researchers from the University of Colorado, Boulder, in the United States undertook a sleep experiment with 19 healthy young men and found just four nights of sleep deprivation were linked to changes in their blood suggesting their bodies weren’t handling sugar as well as usual.

But then, when they let the men get extra sleep for the next two nights, their blood tests returned to normal, countering the effect of the short term sleep deprivation.

The study focused on whatís known as insulin sensitivity, or the body’s ability to use the hormone insulin to regulate blood sugar. Impaired insulin sensitivity is one risk factor for type 2 diabetes, which is associated with age and obesity and happens when the body can’t properly convert blood sugar into energy.

The researchers did two brief sleep experiments. On one occasion, the volunteers were permitted just 4.5 hours of rest for four nights, followed by two evenings of extended sleep that amounted to 9.7 hours on average. On another occasion, the same men were allowed to sleep 8.5 hours for four nights.

After the four nights of sleep deprivation, the volunteersí insulin sensitivity had fallen by 23% and their bodies had started to produce extra insulin. But when researchers checked again after two nights of extended rest, the men’s insulin sensitivity, and the amount of insulin their bodies produced, had returned to normal, mirroring what was seen during the portion of the experiment when the volunteers consistently got a good nightsí rest.

The volunteers were given a calorie controlled diet to limit the potential for their food and drink choices to influence the outcomes. In the real world, when people don’t get enough sleep they tend to overeat, which may limit how much results from this lab experiment might happen in reality, the authors note in a report

“It gives us some hope that if there is no way to extend sleep during the week, people should try very hard to protect their sleep when they do get an opportunity to sleep in and sleep as much as possible to pay back the sleep debt,” said lead study author Josaine Broussard of the University of Colorado Boulder.

However the study authors pointed out that it does not prove sleeping late every weekend can counter the ill effects of insufficient rest every other night of the week and it doesn’t prove that catching up on sleep will prevent diabetes.

“We don’t know if people can recover if the behaviour is repeated every week. It is likely though that if any group of people suffer from sleep loss, getting extra sleep will be beneficial,” said Broussard.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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