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Diabetes Health Center

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Sleep and Diabetes: The Secret Link

By John Donovan
WebMD Feature

Researchers are studying the link between shut-eye and diabetes. What they’re finding is that how you sleep -- how well, how little, or how long -- can help determine whether you get the disease or not.

One recent study found that too much sleep can put you at greater risk for type 2 diabetes. The CDC estimates that the disease could end up affecting 1 out of every 3 people in their lifetime.

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Another study found that too little rest disrupts your body’s “circadian” rhythm. Think of this as your biological clock. If you disturb it, your body becomes less responsive to insulin, a hormone the helps your cells turn sugar into energy. When that happens, it can lead to diabetes.

Doctors aren’t sure why poor sleep habits can lead to the disease. But one thing is clear: It's a wise idea to get quality shut-eye and make it habit.

Uncovering the Links

A 2015 study in the journal Diabetologia looked at more than 59,000 women ages 55-83.

“What we found were two really key findings. One was that those women who were persistently short-sleepers - that is, less than 6 hours a night of sleep - had an increased risk for diabetes,” says researcher Susan Redline, MD. “But, actually, one of the novel findings was those women who actually increased their sleep by 2 hours or more at night ... they also had an increased risk of diabetes.”

When the researchers charted the link between bad sleep and diabetes, they saw that participants who got too little rest and those who got too much both had a higher odds of getting the disease.

“The real question is why?” Redline says.

It’s not hard to come up with reasons.

“I look at my college years. When we stayed up all night, the food that we tended to gravitate toward were which ones? The fattier foods, the carbohydrate-rich foods,” says Marina Chaparro, RDN, a nutritionist from Miami. “And we know we're definitely not wanting to exercise the day that you have 4 or 5 hours of sleep.”

But the study in Diabetologia accounts for many of those factors, like changes in diet and weight and a lack of physical activity. Even then, the researchers found that those who slept too much or too little still came up with an increased risk for diabetes.

So something else may well be at work to explain why poor sleep patterns lead to a greater risk of diabetes.

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