Type 2 diabetes is becoming increasingly common in the Western world, brought about in large part by an increasing obesity epidemic. But while much of the focus has been on factors such as diet and exercise, relatively little has been done to study other factors within an individual’s control, such as sleep.
Researchers in the UK decided to study the effect that sleep, or lack thereof, might have on the risk of children developing type 2 diabetes. More than 4,000 children were studied, and measurements taken included height, weight, blood pressure, and blood levels of insulin, lipids, and various other compounds.
Sleep durations were self-reported by the children and confirmed by researchers by following one subgroup. On average, the children slept for about 10.5 hours per night. What researchers found was that the fewer sleep children received, the higher their level of body fat was. They also found that less sleep was correlated with diabetes risk factors such as increased insulin resistance.
Overall, less sleep was positively correlated with an increase in risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes. Adding as little as 30 minutes of sleep per day was associated with decreases in body mass index and a decrease in insulin resistance.
While this study focused on children, it brings up important questions surrounding the development of type 2 diabetes in adults. We live in a society that is increasingly sleep-deprived, in which working on little sleep is seen as a badge of accomplishment, and employers turn a blind eye to the negative effects of sleep deprivation among their workforces. Might an increased focus on getting enough sleep start rolling back the obesity epidemic and reduce the number of adults who develop diabetes?