Sleeping Your Way to Improved Health
Consistently getting a good night sleep is crucial for anyone’s health and wellbeing. But most of us live in perpetual deficit when it comes to getting enough sleep. And that deficit living can have profound effects on us.
When we think of healthy living we usually think diet and exercise, but sleep is right up there in importance with those other two factors. In fact, we now know that sleep deprivation may raise the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. “In the past decade, there has been growing evidence that too little sleep can affect hormones and metabolism in ways that promote diabetes,” explains Kristen Knutson, PhD, University of Chicago.
How does too little sleep impact diabetics? Evidence shows that sleep deprivation raises blood glucose levels and makes it more difficult to control those levels. Not getting enough sleep actually raises insulin resistance in the cells.
Dr. Knutson refers to a 1999 Lancet study by colleagues at the University of Chicago. In this study, researchers monitored the blood sugar levels of 11 healthy young men for six nights. But during the study, these men were allowed only four hours of sleep per night between 1 am and 5 am.
This study revealed that the glucose levels of these men were dramatically impaired only after six days of sleep deprivation. All of the men recorded higher-than-normal blood glucose levels—though not yet in the diabetes range. As soon as the men went back to a normal sleeping schedule, their symptoms went away.
Lack of sleep can also increase the levels of cortisol—a stress hormone—in the body, which induces a variety of stress responses that also elevate blood sugar. We know that stress is a key factor in elevating blood sugar levels. We also know that a good night’s sleep is a primary strategy for reducing stress.
Additionally, loss of sleep also reduces the level of leptin in the body—a hormone that acts as an appetite suppressant. While leptin is reduced, ghrelin—an appetite stimulating hormone—increases. The result is that people who try to get by on too little sleep tend to eat more. This works directly against the diabetic in terms of both weight gain and higher blood glucose levels!
How much sleep should we be getting at night? Seven to eight hours says the National Institutes of Health. While each person is different—some needing more and some less—people who pride themselves in needing no more than five or six hours sleep per night are fooling themselves and living in sleep deficit.
Tips for sleeping well:
- 1. Establish a consistent schedule for going to bed and getting up in the morning.
- 2. Maintain a physical environment that is conducive to sleep.
- 3. Prepare for sleep: avoid eating, drinking alcohol or caffeine, exercising, or anything stressful right before going to bed.
- 4. Seek professional help if necessary. Sleep apnea often accompanies type 2 diabetes, so consult your physician if you have trouble sleeping.