You know the old adage “You can sleep when you’re dead?” Turns out you just might get to terminal dreamland a lot faster if you don’t get a regular good night’s sleep. New research suggests that your risk of developing diabetes and heart disease may be tripled if you get fewer than six hours of sleep a night. The study has linked short sleep duration with an elevated risk of a condition called impaired fasting glycaemia (IFG), which is a pre-diabetes state.
In a person with IFG, glucose isn’t regulated the way it should be in the body. This leads to an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, a chronic disease marked by high levels of sugar in the blood. IFG also increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
The researchers analyzed six years of data from 1,455 participants in the Western New York Health Study. Each participant completed a clinical examination and provided a blood sample after fasting. Additionally, they completed questionnaires regarding their general health and sleeping habits.
Follow-up exams showed that 91 of the subjects’ fasting blood glucose levels had risen. Those getting fewer than six hours of sleep were three times as likely to develop IFG, as compared to those who received six to eight hours of shut-eye each night. This study is the first to examine the link between sleep and IFG.
What explains the relationship between short sleep and this pre-diabetic state? According to researchers, sleep loss could lead to a higher risk of disease in several ways. In response to stress, lack of sleep can increase production of the hormone cortisol in our bodies. At the same time, glucose tolerance is decreased. These changes interfere with the mechanisms that keep us in balance.
In the U.S., sleep habits have changed over the years. In the mid-1900s, people got an average of nine hours of sleep a night. Now, we get an average of seven hours. The importance of sleep is often overlooked, but it’s essential to quality of life. We’re still learning about how sleep affects our general health. If you think you’ve got more than just an occasional bout of insomnia, seek help from a health professional who can help you reclaim the night.