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The Diabetes and Sleep Connection

Too little sleep can raise your diabetes risk. If you already have diabetes, sleep loss can undermine blood sugar control.
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WebMD Feature

It's past midnight. You're out of clean clothes, and you haven't finished that report for work. Though the alarm clock will ring in six hours, you cram in a load of laundry and spend another bleary-eyed hour at the computer. It's the only way to stay on top of a busy life, right? While skimping on sleep may seem like a good idea in the short run, it can have serious long-term consequences. Scientists warn that too little shut-eye may raise type 2 diabetes risks. And if you already have diabetes, sleep deprivation may undermine your blood sugar control.

Most adults require 7-8 hours of sleep per night to feel well rested, according to the National Institutes of Health. Of course, some people require more sleep, while others can get by on less. But many of us build up a sleep debt by routinely getting only 5-6 hours a night.

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If you're among the legions of sleep-deprived Americans, take steps now to improve your sleep and well-being, experts advise.

"Sleep is an important factor for your health, as much as diet and exercise," says University of Chicago researcher Kristen Knutson, PhD, who has studied sleep and diabetes.

Diabetes and Sleep: What's the Connection?

In the past decade, there has been growing evidence that too little sleep can affect hormones and metabolism in ways that promote diabetes, Knutson tells WebMD.

She cites a 1999 Lancet study by colleagues at the University of Chicago. The researchers monitored the blood sugar levels of 11 healthy young men who were allowed only four hours of sleep per night -- from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. -- for six nights.

"That study showed that after only a week of short bedtimes, their glucose tolerance was impaired. There could be dramatic effects even after only a week," according to Knutson

After 6 nights of little sleep, the men had higher-than-normal blood sugar levels. (The levels were not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes, however). The effects went away once the men were back on their normal sleep schedule.

Experts also believe that chronic sleep deprivation may lead to elevated levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Elevated cortisol may in turn promote insulin resistance, in which the body can't use the hormone insulin properly to help move glucose into cells for energy.

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