Regular Short Sleep Increases Insulin Resistance in Women, New Research
- A new study has found that women who get short sleep regularly may be at a higher risk of developing insulin resistance and diabetes.
- The effects of insufficient sleep on insulin levels and insulin resistance were more pronounced in postmenopausal women.
- The researchers suggest that enhancing women’s sleep quality could potentially reduce the risk of developing diabetes.
Interestingly, women developed insulin resistance despite maintaining their body fat levels.
“The fact that we saw these results independent of any changes in body fat, which is a known risk factor for type 2 diabetes, speaks to the impact of mild sleep reduction on insulin-producing cells and metabolism”, Marie-Pierre St-Onge, PhD, associate professor of nutritional medicine and director of the Center of Excellence for Sleep and Circadian Research at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons”, said in a press release.
“Findings highlight insufficient sleep as a modifiable risk factor for insulin resistance in women to be targeted in diabetes prevention efforts”, the researchers wrote.
The study, “Chronic insufficient sleep in women impairs insulin sensitivity independent of adiposity changes: results of a randomised trial”, was published in Diabetes Care.
Insulin is the hormone that moves glucose from the bloodstream into the muscle, liver and fat cells for energy. Insulin resistance occurs when these cells don’t respond to insulin as they should, resulting in high blood glucose.
Obesity, physical inactivity, and unhealthy diets are known to increase the risk of insulin resistance. However, it is worth noting that short and poor sleep quality can also contribute to this condition. To maintain optimum health, it is recommended that adults aim for 7-9 hours of sleep every night. While the exact mechanisms of how poor sleep leads to insulin resistance are still unclear, research suggests that poor sleep can promote unhealthy behaviours such as overeating and physical inactivity. These behaviours can increase the risk of insulin resistance and diabetes.
Past studies investigating the effects of sleep on insulin resistance have focused on men. However, recent research shows that poor sleep has a greater adverse effect on women’s heart and metabolic health than men’s. Notably, hormonal changes that occur during different stages of a woman’s life, such as pregnancy, child-rearing and menopause, can make it difficult for women to get enough sleep for prolonged periods.
Despite this, the effects of short sleep on a woman’s metabolic health remain unclear. So, scientists investigated the effects of mild, prolonged sleep deprivation in women aged 20-75 years who usually slept at least seven hours each night.
Investigating how short sleep affects women
A total of 38 healthy women participated in the study, 11 of whom were in menopause.
The women completed two six-week studies. In the first study, they were instructed to maintain their usual sleep patterns. In the second, they were asked to delay their bedtime by 90 minutes, resulting in a total sleep time of around six hours. The women wore devices to confirm adherence to the sleep schedules. The researchers measured insulin, blood glucose, and body fat levels throughout the study.
Short sleep increases diabetes risk
The average blood glucose levels remained stable for all participants, but there was a 12% increase in fasting insulin and an almost 15% increase in insulin resistance. The changes were more significant for postmenopausal women, with fasting insulin increasing by over 15% and insulin resistance by more than 20%.
According to St-Onge, these changes are significant because “over a longer period of time, ongoing stress on insulin-producing cells could cause them to fail, eventually leading to type-2 diabetes”.
“The bottom line is that getting adequate sleep each night may lead to better blood sugar control and reduced risk for type 2 diabetes, especially among postmenopausal women”, St-Onge added.
The researchers plan to study the effect of irregular sleep patterns on blood glucose levels since observational studies suggest that these patterns may increase the risk of diabetes. They will also investigate whether normalising sleep patterns improves glucose regulation in people who usually get insufficient sleep. This study could provide new information about how sleep affects blood glucose levels and aid in developing new strategies to prevent diabetes.
Tips to Improve Sleep
- Establish a consistent sleep routine. This can help regulate your body’s sleep-wake cycle. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends.
- Create a sleep-inducing environment by ensuring your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool. Consider using blackout curtains, earplugs or a white noise machine if necessary.
- Limit your screen time before bed. The blue light emitted by electronic devices can disrupt your body’s natural sleep cycle. Avoid using screens, including smartphones, laptops, and televisions, for at least an hour before bedtime.
- Practice relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, music, deep breathing exercises, a massage or even a bath. They can help calm your mind and prepare your body for sleep.
- Exercise regularly. Regular exercise can improve the quality of your sleep by tiring you out and stimulating the release of endorphins, which improve your mood and reduce stress. However, try to avoid exercising too close to bedtime.
- Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day can help you feel more alert during the day and sleep better at night. But, try not to drink too close to bedtime to avoid needing the bathroom frequently at night and interrupting your sleep.
- Ask for help when you need it. Whether asking your partner to take over nighttime feedings or reaching out to a therapist for support, getting the help you need can make a big difference in your sleep quality.
The Main Message
Regularly sleeping for short periods can cause insulin resistance, particularly in women who have reached menopause. This is significant because prolonged sleep deprivation, especially when combined with an unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity, and obesity, can lead to the failure of insulin-producing cells, which can cause diabetes. Implementing strategies to enhance sleep quality in women is crucial to maintain normal blood glucose levels and prevent diabetes.