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Catching Up on Sleep During the Weekends May Lower RIsk of Diabetes

Update Date: Jun 18, 2013 02:53 PM EDT

Pulling all-nighters increases your risk of getting type 2 diabetes.  However, new research suggests that men who lose sleep during the workweek may be able to lower their risk of developing the metabolic disorder by getting more hours of sleep during the weekends.

A new study presented Tuesday at The Endocrine Society's 95th Annual Meeting in San Francisco reveals that getting just three nights of "catch-up sleep" on the weekend significantly improves insulin sensitivity, the body's ability to clear glucose (blood sugar) from the bloodstream, in men who don't get enough sleep during the weekdays.

"We all know we need to get adequate sleep, but that is often impossible because of work demands and busy lifestyles," lead researcher Dr. Peter Liu said in a statement. "Our study found extending the hours of sleep can improve the body's use of insulin, thereby reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes in adult men."

Insulin is a hormone that regulates the body's blood sugar level.  People with Type 2 diabetes cannot effectively use the insulin their body produces or become "resistant" to insulin. Researchers explain that maintaining the body's sensitivity to insulin reduces the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, a chronic illness that affects nearly 26 million people and is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.

Past findings demonstrated the harmful effects of experimental sleep restriction on insulin sensitivity in health, normal sleepers.  However, the latest study reveals how people who lose sleep during the week can "catch up" on their sleep on the weekends to cut their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

"The good news is that by extending the hours they sleep, adult men - who over a long period of time do not get enough sleep during the working week - can still improve their insulin sensitivity," Liu said.

Li and researchers from the University of Sydney in Australia studied 19 non-diabetic men, with an average age of 28.6 years, who for six months of longer reported inadequate sleep during the workweek. Study participants received on average only 6.2 hours of sleep each work night.  However, they regularly caught up on their sleep on the weekends, sleeping an extra 37.4 percent, or 2.3 hours, per night.

Researchers had the participants spend three nights in a sleep lab on each of two separate weekends.  The men were randomly assigned to two of three sleep conditions: (1) 10 hours of sleep, (2) six hours of sleep or (3) 10 hours in bed, in which noises during deep sleep aroused them into shallow sleep without waking them. Researchers explained that the six hours of sleep tested persistent sleep restriction.  Each of the participants had the same food intake during the study visits, so that diet would not influence the study results.

Afterwards, researchers collected blood samples from participants to measure blood sugar and insulin levels to calculate insulin sensitivity. 

The findings revealed that insulin sensitivity improved significantly after the men slept 10 hours a night on each of the three nights of catch-up sleep.  Researchers said that men who got at least 10 hours of sleep a night during the weekends had significantly better insulin sensitivity than when they had persistent sleep restriction. Researchers found that insulin resistance also improves with sleep extension.

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