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Insufficient sleep increases diabetes risk in women

According to a new study from Columbia University, insufficient sleep can significantly increase insulin resistance in women who are accustomed to adequate sleep. This is particularly the case for postmenopausal women, the researchers found.

The study was led by Dr. Marie-Pierre St-Onge, who is an associate professor of Nutritional Medicine and director of the Center of Excellence for Sleep and Circadian Research.

“Throughout their lifespan, women face many changes in their sleep habits due to childbearing, child-rearing, and menopause,” said Dr. St-Onge. “And more women than men have the perception they aren’t getting enough sleep.” 

Insulin levels

The results showed that women who cut back their sleep time by 90 minutes for six weeks experienced a notable increase in fasting insulin levels – over 12 percent on average. 

This effect was even more pronounced in postmenopausal women, with an increase in insulin resistance of more than 20 percent.

Key findings

Despite the increase in insulin resistance, average blood sugar levels remained stable across all participants.

Interestingly, the researchers found that the elevated insulin resistance was not due to an increase in body fat. This highlights the direct impact of sleep reduction on insulin-producing cells and metabolism.

Study significance

This study is significant because it focuses on the long-term effects of mild sleep deprivation, which is a very common occurrence in today’s society. 

The findings are especially relevant given that about one-third of Americans get less than the minimum recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night.

Focus of the study

The research involved 38 healthy women, including 11 postmenopausal women, who typically slept at least seven hours per night. 

The study was divided into two phases, each lasting six weeks. In one phase, participants maintained their regular sleep schedule, while in the other, they shortened their sleep by an hour and a half. Compliance was monitored using wearable devices.

Future research

The study’s findings are crucial in understanding the risk factors for type 2 diabetes, especially among women. 

“Over a longer period of time, ongoing stress on insulin-producing cells could cause them to fail, eventually leading to type 2 diabetes,” said Dr. St-Onge. 

The research team plans to further investigate whether stabilizing sleep patterns in people with variable sleep schedules can improve blood sugar control. They also want to learn if restoring sleep in those who routinely lack sufficient sleep can enhance glucose metabolism.

Study implications

This study highlights the critical role of adequate sleep in maintaining metabolic health, particularly in women. It serves as a reminder of the potential long-term consequences of even mild sleep deprivation on our body’s ability to manage insulin.

“The fact that we saw these results independent of any changes in body fat, which is a known risk factor for type 2 diabetes, speaks to the impact of mild sleep reduction on insulin-producing cells and metabolism,” said Dr. St-Onge.

“The bottom line is that getting adequate sleep each night may lead to better blood sugar control and reduced risk for type 2 diabetes, especially among postmenopausal women.” 

Insufficient sleep 

Insufficient sleep, a common issue in modern society, has been linked to a range of health problems beyond just feeling tired. Chronic lack of sleep can have profound impacts on both physical and mental health.

Metabolic health 

One of the most significant effects of inadequate sleep is on metabolic health. It can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. This happens because sleep deprivation can affect the body’s ability to regulate glucose and can increase insulin resistance. It also disrupts hormones that control appetite, leading to increased hunger and calorie intake.

Heart health

Cardiovascular health is also at risk with insufficient sleep. Studies have shown a higher risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and coronary heart disease in those who don’t get enough sleep. The body’s ability to heal and repair heart and blood vessels is compromised during sleep deprivation.

Mental health

Mental health is another area significantly affected by lack of sleep. It can lead to mood swings, irritability, decreased cognitive function, memory issues, and even severe conditions like depression and anxiety. Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to a higher risk of developing mental health disorders.


The immune system also suffers when you don’t get enough rest. Sleep helps to strengthen the immune response, and without it, the body becomes more susceptible to infections and illnesses.


Additionally, insufficient sleep can affect growth and stress hormones, fertility, and even the risk of certain cancers. For instance, melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep, has been shown to have anti-cancer properties, and its production can be disrupted by lack of sleep.

The study is published in the journal Diabetes Care.

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