Lack of Sleep and Diabetes Linked
New research links lack of sleep with heightened risk for type 2 diabetes in youth
A new review of scientific literature on the importance of sleep in youth suggests that a lack of sleep can lead to decreased appetite control and body weight regulation, all of which can raise risks for the development of type 2 diabetes.
The largest decline in sleep duration and poor sleep quality over the past decades has been seen in children and adolescents, a trend that earlier studies say may contribute to weight gain, increased risks for cardiovascular disease and poor mental health.
This new review of evidence, published in the journal Nutrition and Diabetes, has looked at 23 studies on the topic of risk factors for type 2 diabetes and sleep variables to try and elucidate the mechanisms that may explain the association between the two.
Researchers from Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, in Canada, reviewed studies that not only assessed risks from inadequate sleep, described as sleeping less than six hours per night – a two-hour or so sleep deficit compared to standard advice for children – but also sleep architecture.
A healthy sleep architecture refers to having the right number of restorative sleep cycles and rapid eye movement phases to feel sufficiently well-rested. An out of whack sleep architecture has been associated in past studies with insulin resistance.
In terms of sleep duration, researchers have found that the lowest risk for type 2 diabetes is observed, similar to the figure given for adults, at a minimum sleep duration of seven to eight hours per day.
Drawing from the findings of the different studies evaluated, they have identified a number of mechanisms by which the lack of sleep can elevate risks for type 2 diabetes among children.
One of them, perhaps the most prominent one, is the increased exposure to the stress hormone cortisol due to short sleep duration. This may contribute to the accumulation of visceral fat and subsequent increased insulin resistance.
The reason for this is that the authors also noted that the association between sleep quality and insulin resistance was not independent of the level of adiposity – the increase in the number of fat cells.
There may also be another phenomenon implicated that has to do with the nervous system which, in response to the stress of not sleeping, negatively influences the hormone leptin.
While we sleep, leptin usually rise to control appetite. However, when sleep is restricted, leptin gets inhibited. The inhibition of leptin leads to an increase in hunger and a decrease in satiety. These effects can translate into progressive weight gain.
Sleep is a modifiable lifestyle habit associated with the prevention of type 2 diabetes. One randomised trial that was part of the review conducted among children aged 8 to 11 years showed that increasing sleep duration by just 1.5 hour per night over a week resulted in lower food intake and lower body weight.
Although more studies are needed to shed light on the mechanisms linking insufficient sleep with type 2 diabetes risk, there’s no possible risk in children and teens improving their sleep and getting enough of it on a regular schedule each night.
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