Disrupted Sleep May Raise Risk for Obesity and Diabetes

A new insomnia clinical study shows that sleep deprivation, combined with a disrupted sleep body clock, can actually cause a person’s metabolism to slow down. These are the type of changes in the metabolism that can preclude diabetes and obesity.

The clinical study was relatively small. Some participants were allowed to sleep only six hours a night, while being subjected to changing sleep-wake cycles. Results showed that these participants had higher blood sugar levels and lower metabolic rates while resting. This means that it was taking longer for these participants to burn calories for energy.

As any doctor could tell you, elevated blood sugar levels can eventually lead to diabetes. People who have sustained low rates of metabolism while sleeping may need to make adjustments in their diet or exercise regimen. Low rates of metabolism can lead to obesity, which will also increase the risk of developing diabetes.

You may have heard of a similar study that was performed not too long ago. This research showed that people who work the night shifts or consistently don’t get enough sleep, have a higher level of fat in their blood. This in turn makes these people more likely to be obese, which will raise their risk of developing type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome (this actually represents a number of conditions which are associated with an increased risk of heart disease). That sounds like a pretty viscous cycle.

Dr. Bruxton is the lead author of this new clinical study, as well as an associate neuroscientist at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Bruxton has extensive experience in this area. His research group conducted an earlier study, where they showed that people who got only 5 hours of sleep a night for a week had a higher risk of diabetes.

(see also: diabetes clinical trials)

In his latest clinical study, Dr. Bruxton tested 21 healthy adults in a laboratory setting for almost six weeks! This whole time, the participants were kept in the laboratory, and their diet, activities, and sleep cycle were all controlled by the medical researchers.

The participants got to enjoy an initial period of sleeping regular hours (8-10) during the night in the beginning of the clinical study. Then the researchers had them undergo three full weeks of restricted sleep, where each participant was only allowed up to 6 hours sleep per 24 hour period. The participants also had their body clock rhythm (also known as circadian rhythm) disrupted during this three week period, due to experiencing cycles of 28 hour days. The end of the study consisted of a nine day period where the participants were allowed to sleep normally.

The results showed that during the three week sleep deprivation period, the participants experienced a lower metabolic rate while resting. At the same time, their post-meal blood sugar levels were rising, some even got into the pre-diabetes range. As Dr. Bruxton explains, the pancreas was not able to produce enough insulin during this period. He noted that if these lower metabolic rates were sustained, it would be enough to add an additional 10 pounds over the course of just one year. The metabolic rates of the participants returned to normal after the nine day normal sleeping period.

Dr. Bruxton went on to explain how sleep deprivation and disruption of the natural body clock rhythm impair metabolism and increase diabetes risk in different ways. Sleep deprivation alone only leads to a higher level of insulin resistance, otherwise saying that the glucose in the bloodstream is not being efficiently taken care of. It does not change the resting metabolism rate or blood sugar levels.

The results of this study show that keeping a solid routine in our sleep schedules is not only important for our everyday lives but its important for our overall health. This shows that people have the ability to make potentially beneficial or harmful changes to their own metabolism by changing up their sleeping pattern. Now, it is important to remember that the results of this study came from a smaller participant pool, which means that more research on this topic is required before we can be certain about this connection.


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