Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Diabetes Health Center

Font Size

Sleep Less, Get Diabetes?

Poor Sleep May Be a Diabetes Risk Factor, Study Says
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD


Aug. 12, 2009 - If you're getting too little sleep, you may also be getting diabetes.

People at risk of diabetes tend to get too little sleep. They also tend to exercise too little and eat unhealthy Western diets. Is poor sleep really a diabetes risk factor?

Yes, suggests a study by University of Chicago researchers led by Plamen Penev, MD, PhD.

"If confirmed by future larger studies, these results would indicate that a healthy lifestyle should include not only healthy eating habits and adequate amounts of physical activity, but also obtaining a sufficient amount of sleep," Penev says in a news release.

Five men and six women volunteered for the study. Their average age was about 40. They were a little overweight and didn't exercise much, but were otherwise healthy. They tended to sleep just under eight hours a day.

During two 14-day periods, they stayed in a lab where their sleep, activity, diet, and blood chemistry were carefully monitored. They weren't allowed to exercise, and junk food was always at hand.

For one of the 14-day periods, they were allowed to sleep for 8.5 hours a day. During the other period, they were allowed no more than 5.5 hours sleep each day. Sleep researchers say it's rare for a person to need less than six hours of sleep daily.

As their sleep times shortened, the volunteers went to bed later (at half past midnight rather than at 11:15 p.m.) and got up earlier (at 6 a.m. rather than 7:45 a.m.).

With all the junk food lying around and with so little physical activity, they gained more than 4 pounds of weight regardless of how much they slept. 

What was different was their ability to control their blood sugar. When sleeping too little, the volunteers' blood sugar was higher on a glucose-tolerance test. They also became less sensitive to the blood sugar-lowering hormone insulin.

"When the unhealthy aspects of the Westernized lifestyle are combined with reduced sleep duration, this might contribute to the increased risk of many overweight and sedentary individuals developing diabetes," Penev says.

The study appears in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

Check Your Blood Sugar Level Now
What type of diabetes do you have?
Your gender:

Get the latest Diabetes newsletter delivered to your inbox!


Your level is currently

If the level is below 70 and you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.

People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Did You Know Your Lifestyle Choices
Affect Your Blood Sugar?

Use the Blood Glucose Tracker to monitor
how well you manage your blood sugar over time.

Get Started

This tool is not intended for women who are pregnant.

Start Over

Step:  of 

Today on WebMD

Woman holding cake
man organizing pills
Close up of eye

Woman serving fast food from window
Can Vinegar Treat Diabetes
Middle aged person
are battery operated toothbrushes really better

Prediabetes How to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
type 2 diabetes
food fitness planner
Are You at Risk for Dupuytrens Contracture

WebMD Special Sections