Shift Work May Set Stage for Obesity, Diabetes
Study Suggests Short Sleep at Odd Hours Drives Up Blood Sugar
Measuring the Impact of Poor Sleep continued...
"The pancreas is tired," Buxton says, and isn't "responding adequately."
Why that happens, he says, is still a mystery.
"There's plenty of insulin packaged and ready to go. Somehow it's either not sensing the actual glucose level, or not responding with an adequate or typical response," he tells WebMD.
The good news is that the metabolic disruptions reversed after people in the study were once again allowed to get plenty of sleep on a regular schedule.
The study is some of the strongest evidence to date that short and disrupted sleep is bad for the body's metabolism.
Other studies, which have been shorter or based on more indirect evidence, have shown, for example, that children and adults who sleep less than about six hours a night are more likely to be overweight and have diabetes than people who sleep more than that.
"It's not that it's new information. It's that it provides a lot more information about the combined and potential long-term health effects" of sleep disruption and deprivation, says Charles Bae, MD, a neurologist at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.
Bae is an expert on sleep disorders, but he was not involved in the research.
Advice for the Tired and Overworked: Don't Sacrifice Sleep
"What I tell my patients is to make sleep a priority," Bae says. "For everybody -- and I'm at fault, too -- sleep is the easiest, quickest thing to either get rid of or cut into because we're all so busy."
"On top of that, if you have to work at different hours, and in this economy you take what you can get, that also means you're less likely to get sleep during the day. Especially if you have demands on your time from family and friends," Bae says.
For shift workers, the best solution isn't always an easy one. "You really have to protect that time during the day when you need to be sleeping," he says.
Buxton agrees. He tells people that along with exercise and diet, "sleep is one of the three pillars of health."
Those three aspects of health support each other, but Buxton says studies show that they also crumble together when any one becomes a lower priority.
"So you have a ton of job demands and you're not getting a lot of sleep. That gives you less energy for exercise," he says. "Similarly, your diet changes. Not only are you hungrier and having cravings for more food, and eating more," but being tired makes it harder to resist all the junk food you're hungry for.
Studies have shown that sleep-deprived people eat more snacks and sugary drinks and fewer fruits and vegetables.
But Buxton says there are ways shift workers can better cope.
"Ideally, you'd pick a shift schedule that's not erratic or rapidly changing from one day to the next. You know, pulling a night every third or fourth day is really brutal," he says.