Research published February 19 in Diabetologia, the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, shows that lack of sleep can elevate levels of free fatty acids in the blood. The full-text of the study, “Sleep restriction increases free fatty acids in healthy men,” is available free online. An earlier study, “Fatty Acids, Obesity, and Insulin Resistance,” connected the dots between fatty acids and diabetes.
They Discover the Cause
This is an important study because it found how and why enough sleep is important for managing our diabetes. When scientists know the mechanism, we can have more confidence in their conclusions.
When Insulin Doesn’t Work Well
This is the first study that examined the impact of sleep loss on 24-hour fatty acid levels in the blood. It shows that insufficient sleep may disrupt fat metabolism and reduce the ability of insulin to regulate our blood sugar. Here are two images associated with sleep restriction.
The people in the study were 19 healthy male volunteers between 18 and 30. The researchers carefully monitored how much they slept, and they strictly controlled their diet. In randomized order the subjects got an average of 7.8 hours of sleep for four nights in one study and 4.3 hours of sleep on four other nights in another study at least four weeks apart.
This is a small study, but the results were dramatic. The researchers found that sleep restriction resulted in a 15 to 30 percent increase in late night and early morning fatty acid levels. This correlated with an increase in insulin resistance — the bane of all of us who have type 2 diabetes — that persisted for nearly five hours. These elevated fatty-acid levels in the blood are usually seen only in people who are obese and in people who have type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
“Curtailed sleep produced marked changes in the secretion of growth hormone and levels of noradrenaline–which can increase circulating fatty acids,” says Josiane Broussard, Ph.D., the lead author of the study. “The result was a significant loss of the benefits of insulin. This crucial hormone was less able to do its job. Insulin action in these healthy young men resembled what we typically see in early stages of diabetes.”
Enough Sleep Helps Us Manage Our Diabetes
The study suggests that something as simple as getting enough sleep could help counteract the current epidemics of diabetes and obesity. For those of us who already have diabetes, getting enough sleep doesn’t mean that our diabetes will magically go away. But it certainly suggests that avoiding too little sleep can make it easier to manage our blood sugar.
But determining how much sleep is optimal is a separate issue. Another study that I will analyze here soon addresses that question.
This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.
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