More Zzzs For Better Blood Sugar

By Janis Jibrin, MS, RD, Best Life lead nutritionist and co-author, along with Bob Greene and John J. "Jack" Merendino Jr., MD, of The Best Life Guide to Managing Diabetes and Pre-Diabetes.

More Zzzs For Better Blood Sugar

Getting a handle on your diet and making time for exercise are a couple of important steps to controlling obesity and diabetes. But there’s something else you can to do to protect your health—and chances are, it’s the most enjoyable “task” on your healthy to-do list: banking adequate pillow time.   

Science is beginning to clearly show that skimping on sleep can increase your risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes. Researchers at University Hospitals Case Medical Center and Case Western Reserve University reviewed 36 recent studies on short sleep duration and weight gain, and found a strong positive correlation between the two. And the evidence mounts: A study at the University of Buffalo in New York found that participants who averaged less than six hours of sleep per night, compared to those who got six to eight hours, were nearly five times more likely to develop impaired fasting glucose over time—a condition that can lead to diabetes.  

Ever notice that the vending machine looks extra-appealing the day after you’ve skimped on shuteye?  It’s no fluke.  University of Chicago researchers found that sleep deprivation makes it harder to control appetite, because levels of ghrelin (the hormone that stimulates hunger) rise while levels of leptin (the hormone that signals when you’ve had enough to eat) drop—creating a double-whammy diet buster. And, of course, when you’re sleepy, you don’t feel much like being active. So, when you miss out on sleep, you initiate a weight-gain cycle. In fact, scientists call sleep loss the "the royal route to obesity"—but actually, it could also be called “the royal route to type 2 diabetes,” because obesity is a major risk factor for developing the disease.  

If you already have diabetes, getting enough quality shuteye is even more important, because sleep appears to moderate the neurohormones that regulate blood glucose—and losing out can contribute to elevated hemoglobin A1c (a measure of blood sugar levels over the past two or three months) in people with the disease. Sleep is often interrupted in the night for people with diabetes because of frequent restroom trips or nerve pain. And obstructive sleep apnea, when breathing stops during sleeping, is another condition frequently associated with diabetes. (The good news for people with obstructive sleep apnea is that when it’s treated with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, sleeping blood glucose is stabilized.)  

So exactly how much sleep should you be getting? The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7 to 9 hours a night, choosing the amount within this range that works best for you. To figure that out, you’ll have to take a little time to listen to your body’s need-for-sleep signals. Do seven hours of sleep leave you refreshed, or do nine hours leave you groggy? Having health issues like being overweight, or an increased risk for any disease, makes a difference in the amount of sleep you may need, too. Think through your day: Is spending a small fortune at the local coffee shop the only way to survive until bedtime is to —or even worse, do you worry about nodding off while driving? If that’s the case, you may not be getting enough sleep. And if you think you’ll skimp on sleep during the week and make up for it over the weekend—you might need to devise a different plan.  Over time, a nightly sleep debt adds up and becomes too great to repay. Making adequate nightly rest a priority as important as what you eat and whether you exercise.   

When it comes to catching zzz’s, keep in mind that it’s not just the number of hours you log that affects diabetes risk—it’s the quality of the sleep you get, too. Another study from the University if Chicago found that after just three nights of disturbed sleep, insulin sensitivity (your cells ability to take in the hormone—the more insulin sensitive, the better your blood sugar) decreased in study participants, which has the same metabolic effect as gaining 20 to 30 pounds. So since decreased insulin sensitivity can lead to diabetes, it’s important to give some serious thought to how you can get a more restful night’s sleep if you’re regularly disturbed by things like pets scurrying in your bedroom, a snoring partner, or children waking you in the night. 

Why wait any longer? Go to bed a little earlier tonight so you can give your body the respite it needs before your alarm buzzes in the morning. And for a more peaceful night’s sleep, try these tips from the National Sleep Foundation:

  • Create a regular, relaxing bedtime routine and lights-out time. A comfortable bed and a cool, dark, quiet sleeping space are most conducive to quality rest.
  • Aim to wrap up your exercise routine at least three hours before bedtime.
  • Avoid caffeinated beverages or switch to decaf eight hours before your anticipated bedtime. Also, avoid alcohol a few hours before you hit the hay, too.
  • Try to use your bedroom for sleep and for sex only— piles of unfolded laundry, a computer desk brimming with work and a big, blaring TV don’t foster an ideal sleeping environment.

From, used with permission.

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