HEALTHY LIVING
06/20/2013 08:19 am ET

Sleep And Diabetes: Catching Up On ZZs Over Weekend Could Improve Men's Insulin Sensitivity

Men, listen up: If your schedule prevents you from getting adequate sleep during the week, catching up on shuteye over the weekend could help to lower your risk of diabetes, according to new research.

A new study shows that men who are sleep-deprived during the week have improved insulin sensitivity if they "catch up" on sleep for three nights.

"We all know we need to get adequate sleep, but that is often impossible because of work demands and busy lifestyles," study researcher Dr. Peter Liu, M.D., Ph.D., of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute, said in a statement. "Our study found extending the hours of sleep can improve the body's use of insulin, thereby reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes in adult men."

The study was presented at the annual meeting of The Endocrine Society; because it has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, its results should be regarded as preliminary.

For the study, Liu and other researchers from the University of Sydney in Australia examined sleep and insulin sensitivity of 19 men who did not have diabetes, with an average age of 28. All of the men in the study reported not getting enough sleep during the workweek (average of 6.2 hours a night) for at least six months, with the average amount of workweek sleep deprivation being about five years. The men also reported playing catch-up on sleep during the weekends, getting about 2.3 more hours of sleep a night on those nights. These hours of sleep were verified with actigraphy wrist devices, which could tell when the men fell asleep and woke up.

Researchers had these men stay three nights in a sleep lab over two different weekends, where they were assigned to either get 10 hours of sleep, six hours of sleep or 10 hours of being in bed (in this last scenario, researchers played noises when the men were in deep sleep so that they would be aroused to instead enter shallow sleep). After these three nights, the study participants had their blood drawn so that researchers could determine their insulin sensitivity.

Researchers found that the men who slept 10 hours a night over the three-day period -- in effect, getting catch-up sleep after a week of short sleep -- had improved insulin sensitivity than when they were sleep-deprived.

Having good insulin sensitivity is vital to preventing Type 2 diabetes. When a person has good insulin sensitivity, it means that his or her body only requires just enough insulin for the body's cells to take up sugar in the blood; when a person becomes insulin resistant, it means more insulin is required for the body's cells to take up sugar. When this happens, high levels of sugar remain in the blood -- a significant risk factor for diabetes.

Sleep has been shown to have an impact on insulin resistance in past studies. A study published last year in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that chronic sleep deprivation may hurt fat cells' response to insulin. That research showed that insulin sensitivity is lower after nights of sleep deprivation, compared with nights of enough sleep, Health.com reported.

But while catching up on sleep on the weekends may hold a diabetes benefit for men, it doesn't come without its consequences. Studies have also shown that getting more sleep on the weekends to make up for lost sleep over the week can make your general sleep worse, since it messes with your natural circadian rhythms, pointed out HuffPost blogger Michael Breus, Ph.D.

Similarly, Breus pointed out in a Psychology Today piece that "recovery" sleep won't necessarily make your brain function any better.

The best idea? Try to get enough ZZs every night. Check out these benefits of getting the right amount of shuteye:

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