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Chronic Sleep Deprivation Tied to Heightened Insulin Levels in Women

Insulin Levels in Women

Insights on Sleep, Insulin, and Women’s Health

Recent research, published in Diabetes Care, underscores a critical connection between chronic insufficient sleep and escalated insulin levels in women.

While previous studies have correlated inadequate sleep with elevated risks of various health concerns like hypertension, cardiovascular issues, and disrupted glucose metabolism, much of this research primarily involved male participants or focused on short-term sleep limitations.

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Dr. Marishka Brown, Director of the National Center on Sleep Disorder Research at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), emphasized the significance of comprehending the impact of sleep disturbances, particularly among postmenopausal women.

“Understanding how sleep disturbances affect their health across their lifespan is crucial,” she stated.

Investigating the Sleep & Insulin Levels Relationship

To delve deeper into this correlation, investigators conducted a study focusing on women and their sleep patterns. The study aimed to explore how a reduction of merely 1.5 hours of sleep per night might affect blood glucose and insulin levels.

Given insulin’s role in regulating glucose and the implications of insulin resistance for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, this investigation holds paramount importance.

The participants, women aged 20 to 75 years with normal fasting glucose levels and heightened cardiovascular disease risk due to various factors like overweight or obesity, familial history of type 2 diabetes, elevated lipid levels, or existing cardiovascular conditions, were involved in the study. The criteria for healthy sleep patterns were defined as obtaining 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night.

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Study Methodology and Findings

Participants wore a wrist sensor to monitor their sleep during a 2-week period, establishing a baseline by recording their nightly sleep logs.

Subsequently, they underwent two 6-week periods: one maintaining healthy sleep patterns and the other involving restricted sleep, with a 6-week interval between these phases.

During the restricted sleep period, participants experienced a delayed onset of sleep by 1.5 hours per night, maintaining the wake-up time unchanged.

This alteration led to an average sleep duration of 6.2 hours per night, reflecting the typical duration for adults in the United States experiencing insufficient sleep.

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An oral glucose tolerance test was conducted at the onset and conclusion of each study phase to assess glucose and insulin levels. Moreover, body composition was evaluated using magnetic resonance imaging scans.

Unveiling the Impact on Insulin and Glucose

The results unveiled a striking 14.8% increase in insulin resistance among both premenopausal and postmenopausal women subjected to restricted sleep (6.2 hours per night). Particularly noteworthy was the more pronounced effect observed in postmenopausal women, with insulin resistance levels surging as high as 20.1%.

In premenopausal women, fasting insulin levels escalated, while in postmenopausal women, both fasting insulin and glucose levels rose significantly. Remarkably, these effects on insulin resistance remained independent of body weight, and upon returning to 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night, insulin levels and blood glucose levels normalized.

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Implications and Future Considerations

Dr. Marie-Pierre St-Onge, Director of the Center of Excellence for Sleep and Circadian Research at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York City, highlighted the need for attention to these findings.

“The increased demand for insulin to regulate glucose levels in women under conditions of sleep restriction could potentially hasten the progression to type 2 diabetes,” she cautioned.

Understanding the intricate relationship between sleep, insulin, and women’s health stands as a pivotal factor in crafting strategies to mitigate the risk of diabetes and other related health complications.