Sleep Problems May Trigger Diabetes

January 4, 2008

Insomnia, Sleep Apnea Trigger Diabetes

Researchers at the University of Chicago have completed a sleep lab study which indicates that poor sleep quality may be a risk factor for the development of diabetes. People deprived of deep sleep were found to have a reduced insulin sensitivity. Their bodies needed more insulin to process sugar, and the effect was similar to gaining 20 to 30 pounds.


Nine otherwise healthy young adult volunteers between the ages of 20 and 31 were prevented from getting deep sleep for three nights. When the subjects entered “slow-wave” sleep, they were roused with sound or gently nudged, up to 250 to 300 times per night, in a process similar to that which occurs in patients with sleep apnea. While they only vaguely recalled hearing noise and thought they heard it only three or four times, they awoke feeling cranky and tired.

The resulting poor sleep quality was similar to the sleep of people 40 years older. While people in their 20s get about 80 to 100 minutes of deep sleep per night, people over age 60 get 30 minutes or less of deep sleep.

Other studies have indicated that lack of sleep increases the risk of diabetes and obesity, but this was the first study indicating that the poor sleep quality often suffered by overweight patients with sleep apnea may actually induce diabetic conditions. Aging and obesity are known diabetic risk factors and now it appears that those risk factors also led to diminished sleep quality, synergistically further increasing the risk of diabetes.

Study results were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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