5. Lower Diabetes Risk
Over the long term, sleep deprivation increases the risk of serious health problems, including type 2 diabetes. Various studies have shown, for instance, that how much we sleep can affect blood sugar levels: not getting enough sleep can cause an increase in insulin resistance, making it harder to metabolize blood sugar properly. (Insulin is a key blood-sugar-regulating hormone.)
A 2012 study is the first to record this effect at the cellular level. Although it was a small study, with just 7 participants, researchers were able to see how insufficient sleep shrinks the ability of fat cells to respond to insulin. With meals strictly controlled, the 7 healthy men and women snoozed 8.5 hours for four nights in a sleep lab; for the next four nights, they were restricted to 4.5 hours of sleep.
The researchers found that sensitivity to insulin in fat cells decreased 30 percent after participants slept less. This means that those sleep-deprived fat cells needed roughly three times as much insulin in order to activate an enzyme (called Akt) that plays an important role in regulating blood sugar. When this sort of insulin resistance becomes chronic, it can cause excess sugar and cholesterol to accumulate in the blood, thereby increasing the risk of diabetes and other health problems, such as metabolic syndrome.
Again, it was a small study. But the results are intriguing … it seems even our fat cells need decent sleep.
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