Getting enough sleep can be challenging, but new research suggests that adequate shut-eye may help lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. Understanding risk factors for diabetes is critical since it’s one of the leading causes of death worldwide. The prevalence of insufficient sleep is also a concern, with 33% of Americans sleeping less than 7 hours a night. A recent study published in JAMA Open Network found a connection between sleep duration and diabetes, indicating that people who sleep under 6 hours a night are at increased risk for the disease.  

The researchers conducted the study using health, lifestyle, and genetic information from a database of about 500,000 U.K.-based participants collected between 2006 and 2010, with follow-up data from 2021, including any diabetes diagnoses among participants.

The scientists analyzed self-reported sleep times from nearly 250,000 adults and split them into four groups: normal sleepers (7-8 hours per night), mild short sleepers (6 hours per night), moderate short sleepers (5 hours per night), and extreme short sleepers (3-4 hours per night). 

The researchers also reviewed participants’ self-reported diets and assigned participants a number between 1 and 5, with 1 representing the most unhealthy diet and 5 as the healthiest. 

After taking into account factors that could affect a diabetes diagnosis, like gender, age, and race, they found that people who sleep less than 6 hours a night are at a significantly higher risk of diabetes, even if they stick to a balanced diet. 

So why can’t healthy eating make up for less sleep? The authors suggest there may be more than one reason. Lack of sleep can boost cortisol levels, make it harder for your body to process glucose, and change your gut flora. Any one of these factors can contribute to a person’s risk of developing diabetes. 

More diet-based research is needed to see whether eating specific foods at particular times can help prevent diabetes in people with short sleep durations. Since the study’s data relied on self-reported “healthy eating,” the researchers think that results could be fine-tuned by examining exactly the kind of foods participants eat. 

While improving sleep may not be feasible for everyone, such as those with young children or with sleep disorders, the authors note that regular exercise might help. Previous research has indicated that high-intensity exercise following a night of insufficient sleep can help improve glucose control. In fact, the researchers discovered that the U.K. participants who typically sleep less than 6 hours but regularly exercise were less likely to develop diabetes.      

So, if you’re eating right but getting sufficient sleep at night isn’t possible, you may be able to outrun a diabetes diagnosis by boosting your physical activity.

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References
5 Sources

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    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32422019/
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    https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2815684
  4. Hirotsu, C., Tufik, S., & Andersen, M. L. (2015). Interactions between sleep, stress, and metabolism: From physiological to pathological conditions. Sleep Science, 8(3), 143–152.

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  5. Broussard, J. L., Ehrmann, D. A., Van Cauter, E., Tasali, E., & Brady, M. J. (2012). Impaired Insulin Signaling in Human Adipocytes After Experimental Sleep Restriction. Annals of Internal Medicine, 157(8), 549–557.

    https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/0003-4819-157-8-201210160-00005

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