A recent study looked into an interesting question: is poor-quality sleep contributing to the epidemic of type 2 diabetes? Even more telling is whether making changes toward improve sleep could in fact prevent or delay diabetes.
It was a small study with just nine individuals, yet promising ideas emerged. Researchers discovered that only a few nights spent without a deep, restful sleep actually disrupted blood-sugar levels in the volunteers. Those, of course, are the key levels when measuring one’s propensity for developing diabetes.
The study used machines to monitor the brain waves of the people while they slept. (This same procedure is common at sleep clinics.) Deep sleep, also called “slow-wave” sleep, is what your body craves and what it needs to settle its various functions for the next day’s action. For three nights, researchers didn’tallow them to fall into deep sleep. Every time the volunteers were about to, the machine made a sound loud enough to jolt them out of deep sleep, but not actually wake them. When the three interrupted nights concluded, researchers injected each person with a sugar solution. They monitored how the body would react to it and to insulin, which is needed to move sugar from the blood into cells for energy purposes. The results: even though the person was healthy, they were less sensitive to insulin. That meant they needed more insulin to deal with blood sugar.
Insulin sensitivity is a huge risk factor for type 2 diabetes. See where this is going? The researchers suggest that getting deep sleep maintains normal blood sugar control. Thus, getting a good rest at night could in turn help prevent type 2 diabetes. Many people, particularly older adults, suffer from poor sleep that could be predisposing them to the disease.
Therefore, strategies to improve how long you sleep and the quality of that sleep could in fact be strategies to thwart diabetes. There are several options in the field of natural medicine. One is valerian root, a herb you can take in pill form or as a tea. It has good evidence behind it. Another is melatonin supplements, especially good for shift workers and travelers. Though supporting evidence is not yet strong, acupressure and acupuncture are used a lot to help people overcome insomnia. Other options include biofeedback, aromatherapy, Ayurvedic medicine and homeopathy.