The surprising deficiency that could raise diabetes risk

About one-third of Americans get less than the recommended amount of seven to nine hours of sleep per night. And it could be wreaking havoc with their health.

A night or two of shortened sleep can make you irritable and result in brain fog and memory problems. But chronic sleep problems can lead to much worse — like increasing the risk of diabetes, hypertension, dementia, depression, heart disease and respiratory disease.

These impacts may be worse for women than men, especially on the cardiometabolic front. Researchers at Columbia University decided to examine this phenomenon, and what they found isn’t good news for women who have trouble sleeping…

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How sleep deficiency impacts insulin

It can be difficult to study the health impacts of chronic sleep loss. Laboratory studies have shown a brief period of total or partial sleep deprivation impairs glucose metabolism. However, these studies don’t reflect the typical mild sleep deprivation a lot of people experience, when they get by on roughly six hours of sleep for long stretches of time.

So researchers decided to look at the impact of mild, chronic sleep deprivation by enrolling 38 healthy women, including 11 postmenopausal women, who routinely slept for at least seven hours a night.

“Throughout their lifespan, women face many changes in their sleep habits due to childbearing, child-rearing, and menopause. And more women than men have the perception they aren’t getting enough sleep,” says study leader Dr. Marie-Pierre St-Onge, a Columbia professor and director of the Center of Excellence for Sleep and Circadian Research at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

The participants underwent two study phases in random order. In one phase, they were asked to maintain their usual sleep patterns. In the other, they were asked to delay their bedtime by an hour and a half, which shortened their total sleep time to roughly six hours. Each phase lasted six weeks. Compliance was measured with wearable devices, and researchers measured insulin, glucose and body fat throughout the study.

Results showed that shortening sleep by 90 minutes for six weeks increased fasting insulin levels by over 12 percent overall and by more than 15 percent in postmenopausal women. Plus, insulin resistance rose by nearly 15 percent overall and by more than 20 percent among postmenopausal women. Average blood sugar levels remained stable for all participants throughout the study.

“Over a longer period of time, ongoing stress on insulin-producing cells could cause them to fail, eventually leading to type 2 diabetes,” St-Onge says. 

That means getting enough sleep each night may lead to better blood sugar control and reduced type 2 diabetes risk, especially among postmenopausal women.

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Preventing a sleep deficit

Previous studies have suggested people whose sleep amounts vary from day to day have a higher risk of diabetes. So the researchers next step will be to examine if stabilizing sleep patterns among people with variable sleep schedules improves blood sugar control.

Additional studies will look at whether restoring sleep for people perpetually short on sleep may improve glucose metabolism.

Restoring sleep is simple to talk about, but hard to do for many people who struggle with chronic sleep deficit. But, as we’ve noted in past articles, there are a number of steps you can take to improve the quality and duration of your sleep — including adopting the bedtime routine of a toddler (don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!). The key may be finding what works best for you.

Just one thing — if you sleep with a night light, stop. That too has a crazy impact on your metabolism and glucose tolerance.

Editor’s note: Are you feeling unusually tired? You may think this is normal aging, but the problem could be your master hormone. When it’s not working, your risk of age-related diseases skyrockets. To reset what many call “the trigger for all disease” and live better, longer, click here to discover The Insulin Factor: How to Repair Your Body’s Master Controller and Conquer Chronic Disease!


Shortening sleep time increases diabetes risk in women — EurekAlert!

Chronic Insufficient Sleep in Women Impairs Insulin Sensitivity Independent of Adiposity Changes: Results of a Randomized Trial — Diabetes Care

Why Lightbulb Choices Matter — Natural Eye Care

Carolyn Gretton

By Carolyn Gretton

Carolyn Gretton is a freelance writer based in New Haven, CT who specializes in all aspects of health and wellness and is passionate about discovering the latest health breakthroughs and sharing them with others. She has worked with a wide range of companies in the alternative health space and has written for online and print publications like Dow Jones Newswires and the Philadelphia Inquirer.