Newsletter Article

Improve Sleep, Reduce Risk of Diabetes

We all know that lack of sleep can negatively affect our mood and productivity. A cup of coffee might serve as a temporary pick-me-up, but it doesn’t solve the underlying problem. Poor sleep habits not only lead to daytime drowsiness, but they are also associated with an increased risk of developing chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes.

In a meta-analysis, sleep factors were used to determine the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Sleep measurements assessed included short sleep (<5 or 6 hours per night), long sleep (>8 or 9 hours per night), difficulty in initiating sleep, and difficulty in maintaining sleep. High occurrences in any of these categories resulted in a significantly greater risk of the subject developing type 2 diabetes. One of the effects from a short sleep cycle were reduced levels of leptin and elevated levels of ghrelin. Leptin helps to suppress appetite, while grehlin increases appetite. Over time, this imbalance can lead to overeating and weight gain, which in turn can lead to obesity, impaired glycemic control, and an increased risk for developing diabetes. The mechanism for the association between long sleep cycles and an increased risk for diabetes is not as clear. Depression, low levels of physical activity, and poor general health may all be contributing factors.

Aerobic exercise may be a useful tool for improving sleep and reducing associated risk factors. In a recent study using subjects with amnesia, aerobic exercise improved sleep quality, sleep latency, sleep duration, daytime dysfunction, and sleep efficacy. However, exercising late in the day may not be as effective, because the increases in heart rate and body temperature can make falling asleep more difficult.

Diet can also affect the duration and quality of sleep. Consuming caffeine close to bed time can make it difficult to fall asleep. On the other hand, drinking alcohol at night might cause drowsiness, but this is misleading. Studies show that alcohol affects your REM cycles and can decrease quality of sleep and the ability to maintain sleep. How you start your day may also be a factor in your amount of sleep. A study surveyed college students and found that those who ate breakfast regularly averaged 7.7 hours of sleep, while those who skipped breakfast only averaged 6.5 hours.

Research consistently supports a relationship between sleep habits and the risk of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes. Therefore, behaviors that help improve sleep, along with a healthy diet and regulator exercise, may be a vital component of good health.