A new study has reinforced the idea that disrupted sleep patterns can increase the risk of diabetes and obesity.
Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the U.S hosted 21 healthy participants in a completely controlled environment for nearly six weeks. The researchers controlled how many hours of sleep participants got, as well as when they slept, and other lifestyle actors such as diet and exercise. Their aim was to mimic shift work or recurrent jet lag.
Disruption to the body clock can cause diabetes and obesity
The participants started with 10 hours sleep at night. This was followed by three weeks of disruption to their body clock. The length of the day was extended to 28 hours, creating an effect similar to a full-time flier getting jet lag. Participants were only allowed 6.5 hours sleep in the 28 hour day, equivalent to 5.6 hours in a normal day.
During the study, participants were trying to sleep at unusual times within their internal circadian cycle. This is the body’s “internal body clock” that regulates many processes within our bodies. Participants lived in dim light throughout the process to prevent their body clock resetting.
The researchers, writing in Science Translational Medicine, found that the process caused blood sugar levels in the blood to significantly increase straight after a meal because of poor insulin secretion by the pancreas. In fact, three of the participants had such high blood sugar levels after meals they were classified as ‘pre-diabetic’. Lead researcher Dr Orfeu Buxton said:
"The evidence is clear that getting enough sleep is important for health, and that sleep should be at night for best effect."
The study also showed that prolonged sleep restriction combined with disruption of the body clock decreased the participants’ resting metabolic rate by 8 per cent. This translates to a 12.5 pound increase in weight over a year.
Now, the researchers are calling for more efforts to reduce the health impact of shift working. But Dr Matthew Hobbs, head of research at Diabetes UK, said: "Clearly, this does not equate to the normal experience of shift workers who are able, for example, to use bright lights when not sleeping.
"The study also involved only 21 people. For these reasons, it is not possible to conclude that the findings would translate to real conditions in the wider public."
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