Sleep it off

Ah, Thanksgiving. The only day of the year where you can doze off after you eat and no one bats an eye. But maybe napping shouldn’t carry such a stigma the rest of the year after all…

In a recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, lack of sleep was associated with reduced insulin sensitivity in human fat cells.

In fact, sleep is turning out to play a major role in a large variety of everyday health concerns. We know that there is a supportive role for sleep in learning, memory, and other central nervous system functions. And other studies have already suggested that insufficient sleep may increase the risk for metabolic disturbances, including insulin resistance, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.

This latest study added more evidence to support that hypothesis. It showed that in healthy adults, just one week of sleep restriction has negative effects on insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance.

None of the patients exhibited abnormal glucose tolerance or current or previous sleep disorders. Yet, when they underwent the “sleep restriction” phase of the study, their fat cells showed a 30 percent lower response to insulin.

So, even if you are otherwise healthy, not getting enough sleep puts you on the path to type 2 diabetes by ruining your insulin receptors and affecting how you metabolize glucose.

And to add insult to injury, when you’re sleep deprived, you’re more likely to give in to those cravings for sugary, carb-laden “comfort” foods. So lack of sleep may be one of the initial triggers that sets off the diabesity cycle.

It’s fascinating to think that sleep may be an important key to delaying–or even reversing–metabolic disorders like type 2 diabetes.

And if this is any indication, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what sleep can really do for us. Because if sleep affects insulin, it affects heart disease, oxidative stress, and many other leading causes of death.

So when you feel that familiar post-turkey urge to snooze later today, don’t fight it. And do yourself–and your health–a favor by skipping those 4 a.m. “Black Friday” sales tomorrow. There will be plenty of time to shop when you’re well rested.

“Impaired insulin signaling in human adipocytes after experimental sleep restriction: a randomized, crossover study.” Ann Intern Med 2012; 157(8): 549-557