Enough Sleep Helps Manage Diabetes

Patient Expert
Thinkstock

The past few day have seen a spate of articles about sleep, particularly as it affects those of us who have diabetes. It's about time! In fact, several of them have literally been about time. The amount of sleep that we get is a crucial yet little appreciated aspect of our health.

The Cause Discovered

One of the most important recent studies has found how and why enough sleep is important for managing our diabetes. When scientists know the mechanism, we can be more confident that they have taken all the possible factors into account.

New research published online February 19 in Diabetologia, the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, shows that lack of sleep can elevate levels of free fatty acids in the blood. The full-text of the study, "Sleep restriction increases free fatty acids in healthy men," is available free online. An earlier study, "Fatty Acids, Obesity, and Insulin Resistance," connected the dots between fatty acids and diabetes.

When Insulin Is Not Effective

But this is the first study to examine the impact of sleep loss on 24-hour fatty acid levels in the blood. It shows that insufficient sleep may disrupt fat metabolism and reduce the ability of insulin to regulate our blood sugar. Here are two images associated with sleep restriction.

The subjects of the study were 19 healthy male volunteers between 18 and 30. The researchers carefully monitored how much they slept and strictly controlled their diet. In randomized order the subjects got an average of 7.8 hours of sleep for four nights in one study and 4.3 hours of sleep on four other nights in another study at least four weeks apart.

This is a small study, but the results were dramatic. They researchers found that sleep restriction resulted in a 15 to 30 percent increase in late night and early morning fatty acid levels. This correlated with an increase in insulin resistance the bane of all of us who have type 2 diabetes that persisted for nearly five hours. These elevated fatty-acid levels in the blood are usually seen only in people who are obese and in people who have type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease.

"Curtailed sleep produced marked changes in the secretion of growth hormone and levels of noradrenaline--which can increase circulating fatty acids," says Josiane Broussard, Ph.D., the lead author of the study. "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."

Enough Sleep Helps In Diabetes Management

The study suggests that something as simple as getting enough sleep could help counteract the current epidemics of diabetes and obesity. For those of us who already have diabetes, getting enough sleep doesn't mean that our diabetes will magically go away. But it certainly suggests that avoiding too little sleep can make it easier to manage our blood sugar.

But determining how much sleep is optimal is a separate issue. Other studies that I will analyze here soon address that question.

See more of my articles about how to manage diabetes:

Sleep More, Weigh Less for Diabetes Control

Sleep Away Blood Glucose

Losing Weight to Reverse Sleep Apnea