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Experts say a messy bedroom can interfere with healthy sleep habits. Melanie DeFazio/Stocksy
  • Researchers are reporting that reducing sleep to just 6 hours for six weeks increased insulin resistance in otherwise healthy women.
  • They noted that the impact of insufficient sleep was particularly pronounced among postmenopausal women.
  • Experts say adults need between 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night for optimal health.

Chronic insufficient sleep may increase insulin resistance in women who are otherwise healthy.

Research published today in the journal Diabetes Care reports that reducing sleep by 90 minutes for a 6-week period increased insulin resistance in otherwise healthy women who are accustomed to adequate levels of sleep.

“What we’re seeing is that more insulin is needed to normalize glucose levels in the women under conditions of sleep restriction, and even then, the insulin may not have been doing enough to counteract rising blood glucose levels of postmenopausal women,” Marie-Pierre St-Onge, PhD, an author of the study and an associate professor of nutritional medicine and director of the Center of Excellence for Sleep and Circadian Research at Columbia University in New York, said in a press statement.

“If that’s sustained over time, it is possible that prolonged insufficient sleep among individuals with prediabetes could accelerate the progression to type 2 diabetes,” she added.

The researchers noted that their study is the first to demonstrate that even a mild sleep deficit maintained for six weeks can cause changes within the body that increase the risk of diabetes.

The researchers said they focused on women as past studies suggest that poor sleep has a greater impact on the cardiometabolic health of women over men.

“Throughout their lifespan, women face many changes in their sleep habits due to childbearing, child-rearing, and menopause. And more women than men have the perception they aren’t getting enough sleep,” St-Onge said.

As part of the study, the researchers enlisted 38 healthy women, 11 of whom were postmenopausal. The women typically slept for at least seven hours each night.

The study involved two 6-week phases undertaken at random.

In one of the phases, the women were asked to continue with their regular, adequate amount of sleep. In the other phase they were asked to delay going to sleep by 90 minutes while maintaining their regular wake time.

The compliance of the study participants was measured using a wearable device. The participants’ glucose, insulin and body fat was measured throughout both phases.

The researchers found that reducing sleep by 90 minutes for six weeks increased insulin resistance by almost 15% overall. Among postmenopausal women insulin resistance increased by more than 20%.

Abdominal fat is a significant factor in insulin resistance, but the researchers concluded that the impact of sleep loss on insulin resistance was not because of an increase in fat.

Studying the impact chronic sleep loss can have on a person’s health is challenging. Past studies performed in a laboratory have demonstrated that brief periods of sleep deprivation can impair glucose metabolism. However, experts say these studies aren’t reflective of a real world experience of mild sleep deprivation.

“This is a significant finding because the study more closely models potential real-world sleep patterns, compared to prior studies that have used a larger ‘dose’ of sleep restriction than is typically experienced in daily life to examine the negative consequences of insufficient sleep,” Dr. Norah Simpson, a clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University in California who was not involved in the study, told Medical News Today.

How much sleep a person needs varies throughout the life span.

However, one in three adults in the United States reports not getting enough rest or sleep.

“The optimum for most people seems to be seven hours, but we’re recommended to have seven to nine hours of sleep. Most women will sleep eight and a half hours. Teenagers, if you leave them alone, will sleep nine and a quarter hours. But if you have less than six hours sleep, there’s an associated higher risk of mortality, and doing lots and lots of bad things. But more than nine hours sleep, you also have a higher risk of mortality. But that may be just that sick people sleep more, as opposed to the other way around,” Dr. Richard Castriotta, a pulmonology and sleep medicine specialist at Keck Medicine of USC in Los Angeles who was not involved in the study, told Medical News Today.

Insufficient sleep can increase the risk of high blood pressure, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, poor mental health, and early death.

The amount of sleep a person gets is important, but so too is their sleep quality. Signs that sleep may be of poor quality include waking up often during the night and not feeling rested even when getting enough hours of sleep.

Getting enough healthy, good quality sleep has numerous benefits, including getting sick less often, helping maintain a healthy weight, helping make better decisions, reducing stress, and improving mood.

It is also essential for the functioning of important systems in the body.

“Healthy sleep is as fundamental as healthy nutrition. Sleep is essential for proper function of a complex nervous system, it is essential for neural processing, memory consolidation, as well as organizing, and retaining new information,” Dr. Ravi Aysola, the chief of the sleep medicine section in the division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine at UCLA Health in Los Angeles who was not involved in the study, told Medical News Today.

To get the best sleep possible, experts recommend keeping sleep time consistent as well as keeping your bedroom quiet, dark and at a comfortable temperature while avoiding caffeine, alcohol, electronic devices, and large meals before bed time.

“We now know that if you take a warm shower or bath, one or two hours before bedtime, it’ll help you to get to sleep,” Castriotta said.

Allocating enough time for sleep is also essential.

“A critical part of obtaining adequate sleep duration is setting aside enough time for sleep. Often times adults do not get enough sleep because there are many competing priorities for time, and it can feel easier to make tradeoffs on sleep time to accomplish other tasks and responsibilities. Over time, however, de-prioritizing sleep can lead to patterns of chronic insufficient sleep,” Simpson said.

“Another strategy to promote good sleep patterns is to protect a brief wind down period before bed. Setting aside 30 minutes to help relax the mind and body before sleep is great way for adults to set the stage for a good night of sleep,” Simpson added.