Everyone knows that not getting enough sleep can make you cranky, but did you know it will also make you fat… and possibly fatally ill?
Most people believe everyone has their own sleep requirements and that how it varies makes little difference. But I can tell you that it makes a very big difference.
Lack of sleep delivers a double whammy:
- First you gain weight…
- Then you have an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
Just from not sleeping? You bet.
I’ll give you some tips for getting better sleep in a few minutes. Meanwhile, here’s the deal…
It turns out that when you’re sleep deprived, your body develops symptoms of insulin resistance. And it doesn’t take long. It happens as soon as you build up any sort of sleep debt.
This surprising connection was made during a study of young, healthy adult males who slept for only four hours – for six nights in a row. At the end of those six nights, every single one of those healthy young men showed impaired glucose tolerance… a precursor to developing diabetes.
And if that isn’t bad enough, lack of sleep delivers a double-diabetes risk:
People who sleep less gain weight easier than those who enjoy better sleep. Increased weight is a key factor in developing diabetes. In other words, poor sleep creates a chain that can contribute to diabetes.
Sounds far fetched? Not really. It all comes down to hormones…
The sleep-diabetes link revealed
Lack of sleep does make you gain weight faster. And that can lead to diabetes. This is how it happens: the hormone ghrelin, produced in the intestines, stimulates appetite. The hormone leptin, made by fat cells, signals the brain when you are full. Lack of sleep causes ghrelin levels to go up – and leptin levels to go down.
When that happens you get hungry (particularly for carbs) – and you’re less satisfied when you do eat. So you want more food… a constant cycle that can lead to weight gain.
In fact, a Stanford study actually confirmed that people who slept less than eight hours a night had higher levels of ghrelin and lower levels of leptin. As expected, they also had more body fat – which correlated with their sleep patterns. Those who slept the least — weighed the most.
Adequate sleep is essential in maintaining hormone balance. It breaks that night-time hormonal chain that leads to weight gain. Eliminating that gain can in turn reduce your diabetes risk.
Modern sleep deficit is making us sick
You probably know that Americans are sleeping less than they used to. That may even be true of you. Looking back, adults slept eight to nine hours a night in 1960. By 1995 that average was down to seven hours. And now the average is just over six-and-a-half hours. That’s getting pretty skimpy.
There are lots of reasons for the difference. Distractions like television and the internet keep people up around the clock. Society is increasingly busy 24/7… cell phones and Blackberries make contact possible any time. You can even go to the grocery store in the middle of the night if you like.
And since the economy took a nosedive over the past couple of years, a lot of people say they are working more to make ends meet – and worrying more about it at night. In a poll of 7,000 people, 52 percent said they were losing sleep from stress. So even if you are in bed, you may not be sleeping the whole time.
That’s especially true if you have insomnia or sleep apnea. Repeated waking during the night can make eight hours of sleep feel more like four. But whatever the reason, too little sleep raises the risk of diabetes.
One study showed that people with insomnia who slept five to six hours total had twice the risk of diabetes. In those who slept fewer than five hours the risk was almost three times greater than someone who gets a full seven to nine hours.
Sleep problems and diabetes go hand in hand. More than half of all people with type 2 diabetes have some sort of sleep disorder such as sleep apnea. At the same time, almost 40 percent of people with sleep apnea have diabetes – as well as a much higher risk of developing diabetes. That’s a strong correlation between sleep and diabetes.
Other research examples include:
- People in their late 20s and early 30s who slept less than six-and-a-half hours a night had the insulin sensitivity of someone more than 60 years old.
- A group of young adults in their 20s were studied in a sleep lab. Each time they started to drift into slow-wave deep sleep, they were subjected to sounds that disrupted their sleep but didn’t fully wake them up. After three nights of decreasing their slow-wave sleep by 90 percent (comparable to the slow-wave sleep of someone in their 60s), they became 25 percent less sensitive to insulin. The result was a 23 percent raise in blood glucose – the equivalent of gaining 20 to 30 pounds.
- Sleep habits of 276 subjects were analyzed for a six-year period. 20 percent of those who slept less than seven hours or more than eight hours developed diabetes or impaired blood glucose. Only seven percent of those who slept between seven and eight hours developed blood glucose problems.
So when you’re tempted to trade a few hours of sleep for another activity, it might be wise to reconsider.
Finding your own sleep rhythm
We each have an internal clock that determines our sleep-wake cycle over a 24 hour period. It is called “circadian rhythm” and it works best if you maintain a consistent schedule. That can be hard to do if you work different shifts or if you regularly travel to other time zones.
Disrupting your circadian rhythm is why you get out of sorts when you have jet lag or an illness that causes you to sleep more or less than usual.
Other things can also wreck a good night’s sleep. Letting pets sleep with you seems harmless enough, but you’re adding a distraction. Remember the study where young people were interrupted by sounds just when they were falling into deep sleep? The same thing can happen when your pet’s tags jingle in the night.
Another sleep wrecker is alcohol at bedtime. It might make you drowsy to start with, but then it turns around and wakes you up. Best to stop drinking several hours before bedtime to skip that effect.
6 keys to better sleep
There are plenty of distractions that will interfere with sleeping. But there are also many techniques to promote better sleep.
Follow these six keys to a better sleep and start sleeping like a baby tonight…
- Go to bed and get up at the same time each day, even on weekends. It’s the best way to strengthen your circadian rhythm.
- Have a regular relaxing bedtime routine. Taking a hot bath or reading a chapter of a book in soft light will help you get ready to sleep.
- Make sure your sleep environment is dark and comfortable. Use eye shades, ear plugs or “white noise” if it helps you stay asleep. Replace your mattress if it is more than eight or nine years old.
- Finish exercising several hours before bedtime. Body temperature goes up during exercise and takes a while to drop. Cooler body temperatures are needed to go to sleep.
- Don’t eat anything too heavy or spicy at bedtime. Restrict fluids late in the evening so you aren’t awakened later to go to the john.
- Keep work materials, computers and televisions out of the bedroom. Use your bed only for sleep and sex.
Prioritize your sleep time
Sleep is so important for health that you need to make it a priority. Borrowing time from sleep is like taking out a bad loan – it’s a debt you’ll pay for in decreased productivity and higher risk of health problems like diabetes.
Our society often puts useless value on people who brag that they need very little sleep. As though they are somehow more aggressive and dynamic. Or that they can attribute a measure of success to sleeping less.
Well, forget that. Getting your best sleep – for eight or nine hours a night – is what will have you rested, focused and productive. Your body uses that time to repair itself and keep you in good health. Don’t skimp on it.
Ian Robinson is a member of the Natural Health Dossier independent research team. The Natural Health Dossier newsletter scours the world for the most crucial, cutting-edge discoveries made by the best doctors and researchers in natural and alternative medicine.
Natural Health Dossier was originally developed from a series of private research briefs prepared for a reclusive millionaire. The newsletter continues to challenge established beliefs and evaluates new ideas in order to dispel mainstream myths about diet, exercise, nutrition, health and healing, aging, pain relief, and more.
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