The findings of new research presented at ENDO 2015, the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society in San Diego, CA, suggest that losing just half an hour of sleep can have long-term consequences for body weight and metabolism.
For the study, researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College in Doha, Qatar, recruited 522 patients who had been recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
At the start of the study, the participants’ height, weight and waist circumference were measured and samples of their blood were analyzed for insulin sensitivity.
The participants were required to keep sleep diaries, from which their weekday “sleep debt” was calculated.
The participants at the start of the study who had weekday sleep debt were found to be 72% more likely to be obese, compared with participants who had no weekday sleep debt. By follow-up at 6 months, the association between weekday sleep debt and obesity and insulin resistance was found to be significant.
At 12-month follow-up, the researchers calculated that for every 30 minutes of weekday sleep debt there was an associated 17% increased risk of obesity and 39% increased risk of insulin resistance.
“While previous studies have shown that short sleep duration is associated with obesity and diabetes, we found that as little as 30 minutes a day sleep debt can have significant effects on obesity and insulin resistance at follow-up,” says lead study author Prof. Shahrad Taheri.
The authors suggest in a statement that future interventions designed to combat metabolic disease should also consider sleep and other factors affecting metabolic function. Sleep hygiene and education may be a key component of future trials studying metabolic control, they add.
People often accumulate sleep debt during weekdays as a consequence of social and work commitments, making up for the lost sleep at the weekend. However, Prof. Taheri explains that the results reinforce the notion that sleep loss is additive and has metabolic consequences:
“Sleep loss is widespread in modern society, but only in the last decade have we realized its metabolic consequences. Our findings suggest that avoiding sleep debt could have positive benefits for waistlines and metabolism and that incorporating sleep into lifestyle interventions for weight loss and diabetes might improve their success.”
In February, researchers from the University of Chicago, MI, published the results of their study into the associations between sleep loss and diabetes in the journal Diabetologia.
The Chicago team found that after 3 nights of getting only 4 hours sleep, blood levels of fatty acids remain elevated, rather than peaking and receding overnight as they would normally. This elevated level of fatty acids between 4 am and 9 am reduces the ability of insulin to regulate blood sugars, the researchers explained.
Last December, Medical News Today reported on a study published in The Journal of Pediatrics that found chronic lack of sleep and sleep-related breathing problems each double the risk of a child being obese by the age of 15.
Lead author of that study, Prof. Karen Bonuck, from Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York, NY, commented:
“If impaired sleep in childhood is conclusively shown to cause future obesity, it may be vital for parents and physicians to identify sleep problems early, so that corrective action can be taken and obesity prevented. With childhood obesity hovering at 17% in the US, we’re hopeful that efforts to address both of these risk factors could have a tremendous public health impact.”