THE BLOG

Don't Stall the Sandman!

03/14/2015 10:16 am ET | Updated May 14, 2015
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Are you thinking of staying up for an extra half-hour tonight so you can watch a sitcom or finish that scary vampire novel? The latest research may make you change your mind.

In the study, researchers recruited 522 patients with newly-diagnosed type 2 diabetes. They asked all of the participants to fill out seven-day sleep diaries, and calculated their weekday "sleep debt" -- that is, how much sleep they missed each night.

At the start of the study, participants who cut their sleep short on weekdays were 72 percent more likely to be obese than other participants. Six months into the study, the researchers found a significant association between sleep debt and both obesity and insulin resistance. And by the end of a year, they found that the risk of obesity increased by 17 percent and the risk of insulin resistance increased by 39 percent for each 30 minutes of weekday sleep debt at the beginning of the study.

"While previous studies have shown that short sleep duration is associated with obesity and diabetes, we found that as little as 30 minutes a day sleep debt can have significant effects on obesity and insulin resistance at follow up," said lead study author Shahrad Taheri.

These findings are very much in line with what I see in my own clinical practice. It's much easier for my patients to take off extra weight if they get at least seven hours of sleep a night, and I'm happier if they shoot for eight.

Of course, it isn't always easy to get enough sleep, especially if you're tense and stressed after a long day. Here are some tips I give my patients for getting more and better rest:

• If you're watching TV, surfing the Net, or texting friends late at night, set a timer for bedtime. (We all know how easy it is to get sucked into staring at a screen and lose track of time.) Better yet, turn off your computer, phone, or Kindle early in the evening, because backlit screens can mess with your melatonin.

• Dim your lights an hour or so before bedtime. This will naturally make your body start getting sleepy.

• Avoid alcohol right before bedtime, and keep caffeine to a minimum in the late afternoon and evening. It's a good idea to cut down on night-time beverages in general, so you'll have a better chance of making it through the entire night without a "pee break."

• Eat a handful of almonds or some almond butter. Almonds are high in magnesium, which helps relax you. In addition, they give you a little shot of protein that can help keep your blood sugar levels normal as you sleep. (Brazil nuts contain sleep-enhancing nutrients, too.)

• Take a warm bath, and toss in a handful of Epsom salts. These natural salts will relax tense muscles.

• If you're watching TV at night, give yourself a face massage at the same time. It'll help put you in the mood for dozing off.

• Practice mindful meditation, which can improve your sleep quality.

These tricks should easily buy you an extra half-hour of shut-eye. And wouldn't it be great to simply sleep your way to lower blood sugar and a smaller waistline?