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Over Time, Regular Sleep Deprivation May Lead to Metabolic
Disorders Such as Diabetes and Obesity
Philadelphia, October 15, 2012 -- Short-term sleep deprivation
reduces insulin sensitivity in the body's peripheral tissue,
including fat cells. Over time, this can lead to metabolic
disorders such as type 2 diabetes and obesity, as insulin helps to
regulate appetite and energy metabolism. Results of this
first-of-its-kind study are being published in the October 16 issue
of Annals of Internal Medicine, the flagship journal of
the American College of Physicians (ACP).
Seven healthy, lean men and women aged 18 to 30 were studied in
a sleep lab during two study periods, at least four weeks apart. In
random order, participants underwent four nights of 8.5 hours of
sleep and four nights of 4.5 hours of sleep. Physical activity and
caloric intake were strictly controlled regardless of sleep
duration. At the end of each study period, researchers gave
participants an intravenous glucose-tolerance test to measure
total-body insulin sensitivity. The researchers also performed a
biopsy of abdominal fat cells to measure how the fat cells
responded to insulin. After four nights of restricted sleep,
volunteers' total-body insulin response decreased by an average of
16 percent, and insulin sensitivity of fat cells decreased by 30
percent. According to the researchers, this reduction is akin to
taking the fat cell functioning of a healthy person down to that of
an obese or diabetic patient.
"In our study, seven out of seven subjects had a significant
change in insulin sensitivity after a brief period of sleep
restriction," said lead study author, Matthew Brady, PhD, Assistant
Professor of Medicine and member of the Committee on Molecular
Metabolism and Nutrition at the University of Chicago Medicine.
"This is significant because sleeping four to five hours a night
during the work week is not uncommon. People think they can
function cognitively on little sleep, but our study proves they are
not tolerating the metabolic consequences." According to the
authors of an accompanying editorial, this is the first clinical
study to examine the causal pathways by which reduced sleep
duration may directly contribute to diabetes and obesity. They
write that the study results point to a much wider influence of
sleep on bodily functions, including metabolism, adipose tissue,
cardiovascular function, and possibly more.
The editorial authors caution that the study did not specify
whether researchers standardized participants' exposure to light,
so it is difficult to determine if changes in the functionality of
adipocytes were due to sleep deprivation or duration of exposure to
light (or darkness).
Annals of Internal
Medicine is one of the top five most widely cited
peer-reviewed medical journals in the world, with a current impact
factor of 16.7. The journal has been published for 85 years. It
accepts only about 7 percent of the original research studies
submitted for publication. Follow Annals on Twitter and Facebook.