Women Who Have Trouble Sleeping May Be More Likely to Develop Diabetes

In case we needed to be reminded that sleep is important.

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January 2016 research published in Diabetologia suggests that women who struggle with sleep are at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Worse still, the more sleep issues a woman has, the higher her risk.

A medical team from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health analyzed data from two major studies of more than 133,000 women who did not have diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or cancer at the start of the studies.

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After 10 years, 6,407 of the women had developed type 2 diabetes, and those who reported having sleep issues (which was defined as having difficulty falling or staying asleep "all of the time" or "most of the time") were 45 percent more likely to have diabetes than the women who had no trouble catching zzzs. When other health factors were taken into consideration, including hypertension, depression, and BMI (body mass index), that number dropped to 22 percent.

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The women who reported two or more sleep issues, including sleeping difficulty, frequent snoring, short sleep duration (under six hours), and sleep apnea, were at an even higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In fact, women who reported having four conditions had more than four times the diabetes risk.

"Our findings highlight the importance of good sleeping patterns and having enough sleep for preventing type 2 diabetes," the study authors said in a press release.

The Possible Sleep/Stress/Sugar Connection

"This study makes complete sense," says Sanjeev Kothare, MD, associate professor in the department of neurology at NYU Langone Comprehensive Epilepsy Center and sleep medicine specialist. "More and more studies are now reporting that fragmented sleep from any cause — or sleep loss, whether short-term or long-term — leads to a diabetic state."

He adds that this association may not only be due to a number of factors, including co-morbid hypertension, obesity, and obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSA), "but also due to the inflammatory cascade of events leading to high cortisol release (aka the stress hormone), putting the body at risk for developing diabetes."

As is the case with most studies, there are some limitations – namely that the women's diabetes and sleep condition information was self-reported. Dr. Kothare also wonders why women were the focus of this study. "Type 2 diabetes is more prevalent in middle-aged obese men, so whether hormones — especially perimenopausal changes — have anything to do with this is still unclear."

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