A study suggests that insomniacs have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Bristol University researchers found that people who struggled to sleep had higher blood sugar levels – an indicator of the condition.
The results suggest that treating insomnia, even through lifestyle changes or medication, could keep tens of thousands of Britons from developing the condition.
Dozens of studies have shown that people who toss and turn at night or have a later bedtime are at higher risk for type 2 diabetes.
But the researchers say their study is the most comprehensive to suggest that lack of sleep itself causes higher blood sugar levels — and may play a direct role in the development of type 2 diabetes.
They did not propose a biological mechanism for their findings, which were published in Diabetes Care.
But previous studies have shown that sleep deprivation increases insulin resistance, levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and inflammation in the body, all of which can affect blood sugar.
And experts claim that those who are tired are more likely to eat more and turn to foods high in sugar. Type 2 diabetes is mainly caused by obesity.
Bristol University researchers who studied more than 300,000 Britons found those who had trouble falling asleep or staying asleep were more likely to have higher blood sugar levels – an indicator of the condition
To assess whether sleep patterns played a role in blood sugar levels, the researchers collected data from 336,999 UK Biobank adults.
They examined data on whether the participants, mostly in their 50s, suffered from insomnia.
They examined information about how much sleep they got per night, how tired they felt during the day, sleeping habits, and whether they were a morning or evening person.
WHAT IS DIABETES?
Diabetes is a lifelong condition that causes a person’s blood sugar levels to become too high.
There are 2 main types of diabetes:
- Type 1 diabetes – where the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells
- Type 2 diabetes – when the body does not produce enough insulin or the body cells do not respond to insulin
Type 2 diabetes is far more common than type 1 diabetes. In the UK, around 90 percent of all adults with type 2 diabetes have it.
The amount of sugar in the blood is controlled by a hormone called insulin, which is produced by the pancreas (a gland behind the stomach).
When food is digested and enters your bloodstream, insulin moves glucose from the blood into the cells, where it is broken down for energy.
However, when you have diabetes, your body is unable to convert glucose into energy. This is because there is either not enough insulin to move the glucose or the insulin produced is not working properly.
There are no lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk of type 1 diabetes.
You can manage type 2 diabetes with healthy eating, regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight.
The average blood sugar level of the participants was also measured.
Those who said they “usually” have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep (28 percent of the group) had higher blood glucose levels than those who said they “never”, “rarely” or “sometimes” had these problems mathematical reason analysis of the data revealed.
But there was no evidence that the other traits—sleep duration, daytime sleepiness, naps, and when they were most energetic—had any effect.
The team said the results could improve understanding of how sleep disorders affect type 2 diabetes risk.
The study also suggests that lifestyle and pharmacological interventions that improve insomnia could help prevent or treat diabetes, which affects 4.7 million people in the UK and 37 million in the US.
People suffering from insomnia are advised to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, avoid a large meal late at night, and exercise regularly during the day.
When lifestyle changes don’t work, current insomnia treatments include cognitive behavioral therapy, talk therapy aimed at changing thoughts and behaviors that keep someone from sleeping.
If this doesn’t work, people are usually given short-term treatment with sleeping pills or pills containing the hormone melatonin, which occurs naturally in the body and helps control sleep patterns.
The team said future studies should look at how each of these treatments affects blood sugar levels in people with and without diabetes.
This could establish “potential new treatments” to prevent and treat the condition, they said.
James Liu, a researcher at Bristol Medical School and author of the study, said: “We estimated that an effective insomnia treatment could result in a greater reduction in blood glucose levels than an equivalent intervention that reduces body weight by 14kg in an average height person .
“This means around 27,300 UK adults aged 40-70 with frequent symptoms of insomnia would be diabetes-free if their insomnia was treated.”
dr Faye Riley, Research Communications Manager at Diabetes UK, which funded the study, said: “We know from previous research that there is a link between sleep and a person’s risk of type 2 diabetes.
“But it wasn’t clear which comes first, poor sleep or higher blood sugar, or if other factors play a role.”
The study “gives us important insights into the direction of the relationship between sleep and type 2 diabetes, suggesting that insufficient sleep “could cause higher blood sugar levels and play a direct role in the development of the condition,” she said.
“Knowing about this could open up new approaches to prevent or treat the disease,” said Dr. Riley.
However, she noted that type 2 diabetes is a “complex condition with multiple risk factors,” so a balanced diet and activity are “essential components of good health,” including for those living with or at risk of the condition to develop.