To Avoid Diabetes, Get More Zzzz’s

by Dr. Julian Whitaker
Filed Under: Diabetes
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

If you have teenage children or grandchildren, you’ll want to listen up. A new study shows that teens who stay up too late texting or studying won’t just suffer from irritability—that lack of sleep can also lead to diabetes.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Psychiatry studied 245 high school teenagers for one week. They measured both the length of time the teenagers slept and their insulin resistance, an indicator of pre-diabetes. During the study, the participants logged their sleep and provided fasting blood samples.

What the researchers found is that the participants averaged just 6.4 hours of sleep a night during the school week—far less than the recommended nine hours of sleep for teens. More important, that lack of sleep led to increased insulin resistance. But the good news is that more sleep could improve the condition. In fact, just one additional hour of sleep above six hours a night was shown to lower insulin resistance by nine percent.

But teens aren’t the only ones at risk, sleepless adults are too. Dr. Mark Mahowald ofthe Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center cited evidence that a lack of sleep can also mimic insulin resistance in the general population—not just teens. Finally, when you consider the mounting evidence which shows a lack of sleep decreases levels of the satiety chemical leptin, which leads to overeating and obesity, it makes good sense to add sleep to the list of ways to prevent diabetes.

So, how can both adults and teens get a better night’s sleep?

  • With teenagers, it’s often just a matter of scheduling. Stress the importance of adequate sleep and encourage teens to get to bed earlier on school nights.
  • Turn off the electronics at least one hour before bed—which includes computers, cell phones, and the television.
  • Avoid drinking caffeine late in the day, or eating just before bed. Both habits can disrupt your sleep.
  • Make your bedroom completely dark since light exposure during the night disrupts melatonin production and interferes with sleep.
  • If you’re taking any medications, check with your doctor or pharmacist to see if the drugs you’re taking can lead to sleeplessness. Sometimes a simple change in dosing time is enough to let you get back to sleep.

Now it’s your turn: How much sleep do and the teenagers in your family get each night?

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