Sleep As a Prescription for Type 2 Diabetes and Obesity
Getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis is one of the most important factors doctors should prescribe for prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes and obesity, according to a new study in The Lancet. Yet when was the last time your doctor vigorously emphasized the importance of this basic human need?
Let’s face it: despite the vast amount of research on sleep and sleep disorders, there’s still much experts don’t know about this fundamental function. However, among the things that are known about sleep are that people die without sleep, poor quality sleep is common among young people and adults, and sleep disturbances such as sleep apnea and insomnia have a significant impact on health.
Although sleep apnea has been shown to be associated with metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes and obesity, the authors of the new study suggest a more common sleep issue needs to be addressed to more effectively fight these diseases: lack of sufficient sleep. A significant reason people are not getting enough sleep, they noted, is the overwhelming use of handheld devices such as video games and tablets.
People who work the evening or night shift also typically suffer from insufficient sleep because it disrupts the circadian rhythm. People who must work these hours face special challenges since they often don’t have enough family or societal support to get the sleep they need.
Naturally, insufficient sleep is just one of many factors that can contribute to type 2 diabetes and obesity. In addition to genetics, diet and physical activity are two other major influences.
Sleep, diet, and exercise are intimately related. Lack of sleep, for example, leaves you feeling unenergetic and less likely to exercise, and it also can make you make less wise food choices. For example, a study in Obesity reported that people who were sleep deprived tended to buy more food when grocery shopping.
Other sleep research
Children who do not get enough sleep have been shown to be susceptible to diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. A Pediatrics study reported that children ages 4 to 10 who got 9 to 10 hours of sleep per night (the recommended amount) were more likely to weigh less and to not have factors associated with these diseases.
Another study looked at the relationship between poor sleep (insomnia) and diabetes. The participants were 40 diabetic patients who were enrolled in the CARDIA heart study.
The investigators reported that people with diabetes who experienced poor sleep quality had higher levels of insulin resistance and worse control of their blood sugar levels. Failure to remedy the sleep problems can thus perpetuate this avenue of poor management of diabetes and increase the risk of complications and poor quality of life.
The bottom line
Research shows there is a causal link between poor sleep quality and factors associated with type 2 diabetes and obesity, such as poor glucose control and the body’s ability to control food consumption. One logical way to help alleviate these problems is to concentrate on getting sufficient sleep.
Healthcare providers should question their patients about their sleep habits and quality and then discuss ways to improve it, preferably without the use of pharmaceuticals. The National Sleep Foundation offers lots of tips. One of the smartest prescriptions for type 2 diabetes and obesity could be regular, sufficient, refreshing sleep.
Schmid SM et al. The metabolic burden of sleep loss. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology 2014 March