While I focus mostly on nutritional supplements and herbal remedies, I and all my colleagues recognize that a good night’s sleep is critical to one’s overall health. I’d like to touch on a new study that has identified how poor sleep can influence your weight and your blood sugar levels.
Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that too little sleep or sleep patterns that are inconsistent with your internal clock may lead to increased risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity. This finding has been seen in short-term lab studies and when observing human subjects via epidemiological studies. This new study provides support by examining humans in a controlled lab environment over a prolonged period, and altering the timing of sleep, mimicking shift work or recurrent jet lag.
(Plus: Did you know sleep can affect your blood pressure? Read this article to see how.)
The researchers hosted 21 healthy participants in a completely controlled environment for nearly six weeks. The researchers controlled how many hours of sleep participants got, as well as when they slept, and other factors such as activities and diet.
Participants started with getting optimal sleep (approximately 10 hours per night). This was followed by three weeks of 5.6 hours of sleep per 24-hour period and with sleep occurring at all times of day and night, thereby simulating the schedule of rotating shift workers. Thus, during this period, there were many days when participants were trying to sleep at unusual times within their internal circadian cycle (that internal clock) that regulates sleep-wake and many other processes within our bodies. The study closed with the participants having nine nights of recovery sleep at the usual time.
The researchers saw that prolonged sleep restriction with simultaneous circadian disruption decreased the participants’ resting metabolic rate. Moreover, during this period, glucose concentrations in the blood increased after meals, because of poor insulin secretion by the pancreas.
According to the researchers, a decreased resting metabolic rate could translate into a yearly weight gain of over 10 pounds if diet and activity are unchanged. Increased glucose concentration and poor insulin secretion could lead to an increased risk for diabetes.
Unfortunately for some, this means that people on the verge of diabetes who tend to stay awake at night for work are more likely to develop diabetes than day workers. Compounding the problem is that night workers can have a hard time sleeping in the day and their circadian rhythms are disrupted.
Researchers say that the “evidence is clear that getting enough sleep is important for health, and that sleep should be at night for best effect.”