Women with sleep disturbances at higher risk for diabetes

A proper sleep cycle is a vital component to a healthy lifestyle, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Your nightly rest is the time when your body can repair damaged heart tissue, balance out hormonal fluctuations and take steps to bolster immune system efficiency. As a result, a lack of sleep can have a number of harmful side effects and complications, as the Harvard Medical School explained. That list includes a higher risk for depression, obesity, heart disease and digestive issues.

However, research published in the journal Sleep revealed that restlessness could have huge implications for middle-aged females in particular. According to that study, women in in their mid-40s to late 50s who struggle with irregular sleep cycles have a significantly higher risk for developing certain metabolic disorders.

"Sleep disturbances are quite common in many diabetic patients."

Building on the past
This latest study is the result of work from several researchers and faculty at the University of Pittsburgh. In an accompanying press release, the team explained that the link between sleeplessness and diabetes had been established for some time. In fact, a 2004 Diabetes Care study noted that sleep disturbances are quite common in many diabetic patients, and could all be connected to impaired glucose metabolism. However, this new study – headed by psychology professor Martica Hall – is one of the first to explore how individual differences affect a person's sleep cycle.

To explore that topic, the research team analyzed the SWAN Sleep Study, a 2013 project that involved answers from 370 women of all races and between the ages of 48 and 58. Respondents had to make daily reports, which were then used to calculate four measures of sleep timing: 

  • Bedtime variability: What time the participant went to bed each night.
  • Mean bedtime: The average {amount of sleep?} for each participant.
  • Bedtime advance: How much longer the participant stayed up following delays.
  • Bedtime delay: The reason for a change in bedtime.

Each participant also had her body mass index and insulin resistance levels measured at the beginning of the SWAN study. Follow-up tests were performed at the five-year mark. 

A new perspective
As Hall explained in the press release, studying the data revealed some interesting results.

"Irregular sleep schedules, including highly variable bedtimes and staying up much later than usual, are associated in midlife women with insulin resistance, which is an important indicator of metabolic health, including diabetes risk," she said. "We found that weekday-weekend differences in bedtime were especially important."

So, what causes the link between diabetes and other metabolic disorders, and a lack of sleep? According to the team, variability in your sleep cycle can expose you to differing levels of light. In turn, this can throw off your circadian rhythm, which is responsible for maintaining key hormones, like glucose metabolism, that can lead to diabetic conditions.

Hall went on to explain that sleep disturbances are only part of the puzzle. As Healthline mentioned, there are several other factors that influence metabolic health, including genetics, the presence of key enzymes and even insufficient diet. 

Hall and company's claims are supported by a similar study linking diabetes and sleep disturbances. Organized by a team from Harvard's T. H. Chan School of Public Health, this second study examined data from 133,353 women who had not been diagnosed with diabetes, cancer or heart disease. The Harvard team found that women with sleep problems – which ranged from frequent snoring to chronic apnea – had a 47 percent higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. If they had three to four concurrent sleep disorders, that risk increased four times overall.

"You should get at least 7 hours of sleep each night."

Finding solutions
Luckily, as Hall explained, sleep disturbances can be overcome, which can reduce the risk of developing a diabetic condition. She said that women who are most at risk should get at least seven hours of sleep each night. Additionally, they should maintain this sleep cycle on weekdays and weekends alike, as consistency is vital in preventing disturbances. According to Psych Central, there are several other ways to ensure a good night's rest.

If you exercise for 20 to 30 minutes every day – especially within six hours of going to bed – you're more likely to sleep through the entire night. It's also important to create a bedtime ritual. This can include doing the same tasks each night, be it reading or watching TV. If you do experience any disturbances, don't force yourself to go to bed. Rather, do simple, menial tasks until you feel tired, and then try sleeping again. Finally, if you still find yourself unable to catch some shut-eye, speak with your doctor. He or she can suggest lifestyle changes and other tips to help you get the rest that's so important for your overall health and well-being.