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A Good Night’s Sleep Lowers Diabetes Risk, New Study Says

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A Good Night’s Sleep Lowers Diabetes Risk, New Study Says

Sleeping better might help reduce a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes, as well as other health problems, reports a new study presented at the recent Virtual Scientific Sessions of the American Heart Association. The connection between poor sleep and poor health has been established for some time, but in this study the researchers separately examined different sleep problems and calculated their effects on a person’s chance of developing different conditions.

The researchers, who were led by Nour Makarem, PhD, a cardiovascular epidemiologist at Columbia University in New York, first designed a “sleep score” in order to evaluate the various aspects of healthy sleep. According to Dr. Makarem, “We don’t consume different foods and nutrients in isolation of each other. It’s the same with different aspects of sleep.” These aspects consisted of the average number of hours of sleep a person got every night, the regularity of the times of falling asleep at night and waking in the morning, how long it took a person to fall asleep, excessive daytime sleep, and such sleep disorders as breathing troubles during sleep and snoring.

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The researchers then assessed the sleep scores of 4,559 subjects who had participated in the 2017-2018 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). NHANES is a program of studies launched in the early 1960s to evaluate the health and nutrition of adults and children in the United States. Combining interviews and physical examinations, it’s a major program of the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) and generates vital and health statistics. The researchers then placed the subjects into one of three sleep categories: “poor,” “moderate,” and “ideal.”

Good sleepers less likely to develop type 2 diabetes

Overall, the researchers reported that compared to people with poor sleep scores, people with ideal sleep scores were 58% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. In addition, the ideal sleepers were 66% less likely to develop high blood pressure, 73% less likely to become obese, and 69% less likely to develop what researcher call “central adiposity,” or fat around the waist.

Beyond this, the researchers also looked into more specific sleep factors. For example, people who rarely or never snored and didn’t have trouble falling asleep had up to a 51% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. These same people had up to a 46% lower risk of developing high blood pressure, up to a 58% lower risk of becoming obese, and up to a 54% lower risk of developing excessive waistline fat. As Dr. Makarem explained, “Multidimensional sleep health is important because our sleep habits are not isolated, they’re interrelated. Sleep health as a whole may be stronger than the sum of its parts.”

According to Dr. Makarem, the results of her team’s research carry a message for both doctors and patients. Doctors need to be more aware of the need to diagnose, screen for, and treat sleep problems. Physicians, often constrained by time limits, sometimes fail to ask their patients about sleep. One study reported that although about 80% of doctors discuss exercise and healthy diet with their patients, just 43% ask about sleep. Meanwhile, patients need to be more vigilant about their sleep habits ‐ what time they go to bed, what time they wake up, and how many hours they sleep. Dr. Makarem advised limiting caffeine, alcohol, and large meals before bed and keeping the bedroom dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature. Finally, she said, “One of the most important things is to have a fixed, consistent sleep schedule, getting seven to eight hours on both weekdays and weekends.”

Want to learn more about sleeping well with diabetes? Read “Getting the Sleep You Need,” “Eating for Better Sleep” and “Feeling Fatigued: Here’s How to Fight It.”

Joseph Gustaitis

Joseph Gustaitis

Joseph Gustaitis on social media

A freelance writer and editor based in the Chicago area, Gustaitis has a degree in journalism from Columbia University. He has decades of experience writing about diabetes and related health conditions and interviewing healthcare experts.

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