The Heavy Consequences of Poor Sleep

Image via Nature

Image via Nature

Did you stay up late last night, say, studying for an exam or watching an exciting NBA playoff game? If so, you’re probably a little bit cranky and fuzzy-headed today. We know lack of sleep is bad for productivity the next day, but a growing body of evidence shows that too little or poor sleep causes long-lasting effects on the metabolism, leading to weight gain and possibly type 2 diabetes.

This week, Nature’s Brian Owens took a long look at the study of how sleep affects metabolism, including research by Matthew Brady, Eve Van Cauter, and Esra Tasali, here at the University of Chicago Medicine. In 1999, Van Cauter’s work showed that lack of sleep in young men caused insulin resistance, which can lead to type 2 diabetes. Owens explains:

The underlying biology is slowly becoming clear. Van Cauter’s work helped to show that two hormones — leptin and ghrelin — are likely to be involved in the link between sleep and weight gain. Leptin is produced by fat cells and is a signal of satiety; ghrelin is produced by the stomach and signals hunger. Together, these hormones regulate hunger and appetite. Van Cauter’s team later showed that restricting the sleep time of healthy young men in the lab caused their leptin levels to fall and their ghrelin levels to rise, increasing their appetite, especially for fatty and sugary foods.

Last year, Tasali, Brady, Van Cauter and David Erhmann, showed that reduced sleep even affects individual cells, leading to increased insulin resistance in fat cells.

But can you head off these problems by getting more sleep? Owens notes that Tasali is also studying how better sleep quality can help patients with sleep apnea, a breathing disorder that is also linked to increased risk for diabetes and obesity. In a study presented recently at the American Thoracic Society meeting in Philadelphia, she showed that two-week treatment with continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, a breathing mask that helps open the airway, greatly redueced insulin resistance in pre-diabetic patients.

So if you’re thinking about burning the midnight oil tonight, think again. Not only will you feel better in the morning, but your metabolism will thank you for it later.

About Matt Wood (491 Articles)
Matt Wood is a senior science writer for the University of Chicago Medicine and editor of the Science Life blog.
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