diabetes and sleep

Do you know the connection between sleep and your risk of type 2 diabetes? (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

Previous research has established the link between not getting enough sleep and an increased risk for type 2 diabetes and other health conditions.  A new study from the University of Helsinki may explain why this link exists.

The study was undertaken by the University’s Sleep Team and was published in the PLOS One journal last month.   The intent of the study was to identify the biological mechanisms at play when the body is deprived of sleep and how those mechanisms impact the risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

The study was conducted at the Finnish Institute of Health’s sleep lab and the participant pool consisted of young healthy men.  The amount of sleep participants were allowed to sleep was restricted to only four hours a night for five nights in a row.  The goal was to replicate not getting adequate amounts of sleep during a typical work week.  A blood sample was taken from each participant prior to the enforced sleep restriction and again after the five days of sleep deprivation.  The research team then examined the genes expressed in each of the participant samples.  These results were then compared to blood samples collected from a control group of similar healthy young men who had been sleeping for a full 8 hours a night.

The focus of their analysis was on which gene expressions differed the most in participants when their blood samples from before the period of deprivation were compared to those taken after.   The team found that the gene expressions related to the immune system increased after being deprived of sleep.  In addition, there was an increase in the activity of cells that control the body’s defenses including allergic responses and asthma symptoms.   The team also found that the number of molecules that promote inflammation also increased.

As a follow-up to their findings, the research team looked at the effect that long term sleep deprivation can have on the body’s immune system.  Using information gathered as part of the FINRISKI health survey, the team compared the data from participants that reported getting adequate sleep with the data from those who reported being sleep deprived.  The survey involved blood sampling of all respondents which enabled the research team to compare the same types of gene expression changes as in the first study.  This additional research showed the same changes in a broader population as those found in the controlled sleep deprivation study.

These changes may help explain why sleep deprivation can contribute to the development of diseases related to inflammation like type 2 diabetes.  By expanding our understanding both the immediate and long-term effects of sleep deprivation on both the immune system and the body’s metabolism, this research may help in future prevention and treatment options.


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