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Not enough sleep: A risk for diabetes?

A recent study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine found that people who have insufficient amounts or erratic sleep patterns are at a greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Twenty-one healthy participants placed on an erratic wake-sleep schedule had increased glucose levels during the length of the study, reported NBC News. Three became pre-diabetic.

The study, "Adverse Metabolic Consequences in Humans of Prolonged Sleep Restriction Combined with Circadian Disruption," examined the effects of irregular, disrupted sleep on the body's metabolic and blood sugar rates. Researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston hypothesized that an erratic sleep schedule slows the body's metabolic rate and raises blood sugar. Indeed, they found a 32 percent drop in the production of insulin in participants.

"These findings are a substantial step forward from past work," Orfeu Buxton, a neuroscientist and lead author of the study, told ABC News. "We observed a new mechanism by which disrupted circadian (24-hour) rhythms can increase diabetes risk. Also somewhat surprisingly, these effects occurred in both young and older adults, and men and women."

According to ABC News, the experiment was the first of its kind to occur in a completely-controlled laboratory. For the study, researchers set out to recreate the sleep patterns of shift workers. For three weeks, participants received less than six hours of sleep daily and underwent disruptions so as to create "28-hour" like days. Researchers then measured the amounts of insulin and other hormones in the blood stream, according to FOX News. They also looked at increases in blood sugar after participants ate.

"Glucose levels went much higher and stayed that way for several hours," Buxton told NBC News. "This was because of decreased insulin released from the pancreas. Together these reflect an increased risk of diabetes."

Researchers in the study had advice for shift workers, of which there are 21 million in the US., according to NBC News. This included that they do the following:

  1. Sleep during the day in a quiet and very dark room
  2. Avoid large meals when they sense their body's internal clock is less-than-regular

The research could also be a call to reassess attitudes toward sleep.

"We live in a society that brags about how little sleep we get by on," Michael Grandner, a research associate at UPenn's Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology, told ABC News. "When we hear someone brag about eating a whole pizza in one sitting, we know that was unhealthy and a bad idea. But when we hear someone brag about getting only a few hours of sleep, we don't have the same reaction, but maybe we should. We need to make sleep a priority for our health."

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