This One Painless Habit Can Lower Your Diabetes Risk

Sleep can help lower your diabetes risk

Sleep can help lower your diabetes risk | Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images

If it feels like you’ve been increasingly bombarded with advice telling you to get more sleep, you’d be right. Medical science keeps pumping out more and more evidence that sleep is a cornerstone to a healthy lifestyle, even more so than a proper diet or adequate amounts of physical activity. Getting enough quality sleep is tied to improved brain function and higher earnings. It can help you keep weight off.

And now, as the studies continue to pile up, we know that it can help you fight off diabetes.

Scientists know that there is a link between sleep and diabetes, specifically that a lack of sleep, or getting too little, tends to positively skew your odds of contracting it. It’s a link that is still being researched, and there’s even evidence that points to the polar opposite — that sleeping too much can lead to improved odds of contracting diabetes. With so much conflicting information, what’s one to do?

Your best bet is to simply get the recommended amount — roughly seven to nine hours. If you’re not able to manage that during the week, as many people are busy with work and family obligations, a fresh study says that you can lower your diabetes risk by making up for it on the weekends. That is, by simply sleeping in on the days you aren’t working or need to be up early, you can put yourself on the right track.

The study, published by researchers from the University of Colorado in Diabetes Care, says that we can aggregate our weekly sleep amounts to help us reach a healthy equilibrium. By restricting the sleep of 19 volunteers to an average of 4.3 hours per night, researchers found that insulin sensitivity dropped 23%, bringing up their diabetes risk by 16%. They followed up by allowing a couple of days where the subjects were allowed to sleep twice as long (similar to sleeping in on a weekend), and the subjects’ levels returned to normal.

The researchers essentially tried to mimic the sleep cycle that some people may experience during a typical work week, and see the impact on insulin levels and sensitivity. While the findings are promising, this was still a small-time study, and there’s a lot more work to be done.

But if you want an easy takeaway? Make sure you’re getting at least a couple of days of prolonged sleep — if you can. Some people obviously have to deal with jobs and kids everyday, which means sleeping for nine or ten hours is out of the question.

ResearchGate was able to ask the study’s lead author, Josiane L. Broussard of the University of Colorado, some follow-up questions after the study was published. During the exchange, Broussard addressed the conflicting findings of studies related to sleep and positive or detrimental health outcomes. According to Broussard, scientists are still trying to catch up, in many respects.

“There is a U-shaped association between sleep amount and health outcomes, but at this point, we don’t know the contribution of co-morbidities such as depression and sleep apnea that may be leading to longer sleep times in these population studies, as opposed to people who are ‘true’ long sleepers,” she told ResearchGate.

“These are young healthy lean men and the study was conducted once. We don’t know if people can recover if the behavior is repeated every week. On the plus side, it gives us some hope that if there is no way to extend sleep during the week, people should try very hard to protect their sleep when they do get an opportunity to sleep in and sleep as much as possible to pay back the sleep debt.”

Sleep debts are still something that many Americans are coming to terms with. American culture has a habit of celebrating those who don’t sleep, even though it’s been shown time and again that getting too little, night after night, can be damaging to our health. And if scientists continue to flesh out the relationship between sleep and diabetes with expected results, the economic costs are going to enter the conversation at some point.

This UC study is likely a precursor to many others, but there does seem to be a good indicator that we can do our bodies a favor by catching up on sleep on the weekends. So don’t feel guilty about missing Face the Nation — you’re only looking out for your health.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Sliceofginger

More from Health & Fitness Cheat Sheet: