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Study Links Lack of Sleep to Type 2 Diabetes Risk

Experts say less sleep affects hormone that controls blood sugar levels…

Researchers say lack of sleep can lead to increased levels of substances called free fatty acids in the blood. These substances interfere with the ability of the hormone insulin to regulate blood sugar levels.

The researchers said this suggests that high rates of obesity and diabetes could be reduced by something as simple as having people get more sleep.

Study senior author Dr. Esra Tasali in a University of Chicago news release stated that, “At the population level, multiple studies have reported connections between restricted sleep, weight gain and type 2 diabetes.”

The study included 19 healthy men between the ages of 18 and 30. The volunteers participated in two sleep scenarios. In one, they got a full night’s sleep — about eight hours a night — for four nights. In the other, they only got slightly more than four hours of sleep a night.

After a few consecutive nights of getting too little sleep, the men’s blood levels of fatty acids increased and stayed high for about five hours in the early morning hours. These levels usually peak and then drop overnight.

According to the study, as long as fatty acid levels remained high, the ability of insulin to regulate blood sugar levels was impaired.

Study lead author Josiane Broussard a postdoctoral research scientist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Diabetes and Obesity Research Institute in Los Angeles, explained in the release, “The result was a significant loss of the benefits of insulin. This crucial hormone was less able to do its job. Insulin action in these healthy young men resembled what we typically see in early stages of diabetes.” The findings add to growing evidence that lack of sleep may disrupt fat metabolism, and suggest that increasing people’s amount of sleep may reduce rates of obesity and diabetes, the researchers said.

Practice Pearls:

  • When not getting enough sleep, fatty acids remain high
  • When fatty acid levels remain high, the ability of insulin to regulate blood sugar levels is impaired.
  • Increasing sleep may reduce rates of obesity and diabetes.

Josiane L. Broussard. Sleep restriction increases free fatty acids in healthy men, Feb. 22, Diabetologia, DOI: 10.1007/s00125-015-3500-4