What sleep can do to your diabetes risk

You know how poor eating habits can cause your insulin levels to spiral out of control, leading to diabetes and other diseases.

But you might not realize that poor sleep habits can do the same with insulin sensitivity-- and if you're constantly burning the midnight oil, I've got some news that I hope will get you back in bed at a normal hour.

In a new study, seven young men and women spent eight nights in a sleep lab, getting normal rest on half the nights and just 4.5 hours of sleep on the other nights.

They ate a limited number of calories to prevent those all-night junk food sessions that often accompany late hours. And they were all healthy.

Well, I should say they were healthy at the start of the study.

By the end of the experiment, these young men and women suffered a 16 percent drop in insulin sensitivity, with insulin sensitivity in the fat cells plunging by nearly a third.

Even worse, those fat cells needed three times the normal levels of insulin to activate the enzyme that regulates blood sugar.

Those are the kinds of numbers normally seen in the obese and even in diabetics -- not healthy young men and women. The researchers behind the sleep and insulin sensitivity study said it's the metabolic equivalent of aging between 10 and 20 years in just eight nights.

Now, I realize it's a short study with just a limited number of people. But we all have weeks like that from time to time, don't we? And even when you don't, you often simply aren't sleeping very well most of the time.

Most people average just 6.7 hours of sleep each night -- and I'm sure there are times when you only wish you could get that much rest.

The effect of all that missed sleep might not be quite as extreme as what we see in the new study, but it's definitely having an impact, and that's why many of the people who get poor sleep face the same risks as the overweight and obese, even if they're slim and trim.

For starters, poor sleep habits have been linked to diabetes, heart disease, heart attack, hypertension, stroke, and more. In seniors, poor sleep can also increase the risk of dementia and even an early death.

That's why it's essential to get the rest you need no matter how old -- or young -- you are. For some, the answer is as simple as turning off the TV earlier. Others will need more help.

Don't turn to drugs. Visit a holistic physician who can help find the cause of your sleep troubles and correct it naturally, or make an appointment to see me at the Stengler Center for Integrative Medicine.