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Sleepless Nights Can Lead to Insulin Resistance and Diabetes


Several studies have indicated that we are getting less sleep and that there are significant health effects that can occur as a result. A new study from the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands adds to prior evidence that insomnia is linked to insulin resistance and also finds that it takes just one sleepless night to cause problems.

Using the “hyperinsulinemic euglycemic clamp method”, the researchers measured insulin sensitivity nine health people, once after a night of eight hours of sleep and once after a night of just four hours. This method uses catheters to infuse glucose and insulin into the bloodstream and then determines insulin sensitivity by measuring the amount of glucose necessary to compensate for an increased insulin level without causing hypoglycemia.

The partial sleep restriction during a single night reduced some types of insulin sensitivity by 19 to 25%.

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that controls the amount of glucose is present in the bloodstream. Glucose rises after a meal, and insulin grabs the sugar and transports it to the cells where it is used for fuel. When insulin’s ability to lower glucose is hampered, a condition known as “insulin resistance” occurs. Consistent high sugar levels leads to type 2 diabetes.

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About 180 million people in the world now suffer from diabetes, and the researchers say their findings may not be a coincidence that the pattern of getting less sleep is linked to a rise in the disease. "Our findings show a short night of sleep has more profound effects on metabolic regulation than previously appreciated," said Esther Donga, director of Leiden University Medical Center.

While the study was small, the findings support a study last year from US scientists that found that people who slept less than six hours a night were 4.5 times more likely to develop abnormal blood sugar readings that those who slept longer. Sleep experts say that most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night.

Among the other detriments to not getting enough sleep include the increased risk of obesity and the risk of premature death.

In a study from Wake University earlier this year, researchers found that not getting enough sleep can cause larger amounts of fat to accumulate around the organs, known as visceral fat accumulation. This can lead to an increased risk of diabetes as well and some types of cancer. British and Italian researchers compiled 16 studies done in the past 25 years to find that those who slept less than six hours a night were 12% more likely to experience a premature death.

"A Single Night of Partial Sleep Deprivation Induces Insulin Resistance in Multiple Metabolic Pathways in Healthy Subjects."
Esther Donga, Marieke van Dijk, J. Gert van Dijk, et al
J. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab., Rapid Electronic Publication first published on Apr 6, 2010 as doi:10.1210/jc.2009-2430