Chronic sleep deprivation with shift work could increase risk of diabetes

Restricted sleep paired with irregular sleep patterns alters metabolism and could increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and obesity, according to a study published in Science Translational Medicine.

Researchers from Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston set out to discover if irregular sleep patterns experienced by people performing shift work impair glucose regulation and metabolism.

The scientists studied healthy adults for five weeks under controlled laboratory conditions. Participants first experienced optimal sleep. Subjects then underwent three weeks of sleep restriction, defined as 5.6 hours of sleep per 24 hours, combined with circadian disruption, defined as recurring 28-hour days. In the final nine days, they had recovery sleep with circadian re-entrainment.

Sleep restrictions decreased metabolic rate

Researchers found that this exposure to prolonged sleep restriction and circadian disruption caused a decreased resting metabolic rate in participants. It also increased plasma glucose concentrations after a meal caused by inadequate pancreatic insulin secretion.

These changes normalized during the recovery sleep.

Sleep and general health

According to the Harvard Women's Health Watch, a short-lived bout of insomnia is generally safe. However, chronic sleep loss can contribute to weight gain, high blood pressure, and a decrease in the immune system's power.

Chronic sleep deprivation may cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite, according to the Harvard Women's Health Watch.

Lack of sleep alters immune function. Getting enough sleep may help fight diseases like cancer.

Serious sleep deprivation harms cardiovascular health by raising blood pressure, increasing stress hormone levels and causing an irregular heartbeat.

Lack of sleep also affects safety as lapses during the work day may cause medical errors, air traffic accidents and road accidents. It can also cause irritability, impatience, inability to concentrate and moodiness.

Memory and learning benefit from adequate sleep, which helps the brain commit new information to memory through memory consolidation.

Sources: Science Translational Medicine, Harvard University

photo by Nastassia Davis

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