Whether it’s taking the night shift, texting until late at night or traveling on the red eye, these are examples of not getting enough to sleep. Is it risky not to get enough sleep? Researchers say there is and it’s not just nodding off while driving. It turns out that the average person who doesn’t get sleep for days and weeks on end are at risk for heart disease, diabetes and other medical conditions.
Studies have indicated that those who routinely get less than 5 hours of sleep per night have an increased chance of getting type II diabetes, usually developing later in life. The same is true of shift work. Those who work at least three or more night shifts per month have an increased risk of getting type II diabetes. What’s known is that diet and exercise plays a role in getting diabetes. People who work in the middle of the night are more likely to make bad food choices such as donuts, muffins and other sweets. Exercise is also hard to do when your body is telling you that you should be sleeping.
Some research indicates that a lack of sleep and getting diabetes is more complicated than not exercising and eating bad. It’s as though the circadian rhythm is telling you that you that your system has been disrupted and leads you to getting heart disease and diabetes for reasons we can’t completely understand yet.
One study looked at 21 volunteers who were healthy at the time of the study. They spent six weeks living in a lab where everything from exercise, sleep, diet and light were controlled. For three of the weeks they were allowed only slightly over 5 hours of sleep at different times of the day or night. The circadian rhythm was disrupted in some of them. What they noticed was that blood sugar levels increased and the pancreas stopped secreting enough insulin. The metabolic rate slowed to about 8 percent even though the diet was controlled so they wouldn’t gain weight. This would amount to about 10-12 pounds gained per year.
It is estimated that up to 70 million Americans are chronically sleep deprived and suffer from insomnia and a weak immune system, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, memory problems and other health problems.
The message to the average person? Get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night to have good health. If you happen to work nights, make sure you go straight to bed as soon as you get home. Let the natural light help your biological sleep clock stay on schedule. Sunlight in the morning helps you get up in the morning. Make sure you sleep in the dark, where it is quiet and cool. Don’t have stressful situations, caffeine or alcohol just before going to bed.