Lack of sleep alters hormones, metabolism

October 21, 1999

Chronic sleep loss can reduce the capacity of even young adults to perform basic metabolic functions such as processing and storing carbohydrates or regulating hormone secretion, report researchers from the University of Chicago Medical Center in the October 23 issue of The Lancet. Cutting back from the standard eight down to four hours of sleep each night produced striking changes in glucose tolerance and endocrine function -- changes that resembled the effects of advanced age or the early stages of diabetes -- after less than one week.

Although many studies have examined the short-term effects of acute, total sleep deprivation on the brain, this is the first to investigate the impact of chronic, partial sleep loss on the body by evaluating the metabolism and hormone secretion of subjects subjected to sleep restriction and after sleep recovery.

"We found that the metabolic and endocrine changes resulting from a significant sleep debt mimic many of the hallmarks of aging," said Eve Van Cauter, Ph.D., professor of medicine at the University of Chicago and director of the study. "We suspect that chronic sleep loss may not only hasten the onset but could also increase the severity of age-related ailments such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity and memory loss."

Cutting back on sleep is an extremely common response to the time pressures of modern industrial societies. The average night's sleep decreased from about nine hours in 1910 to about 7.5 hours in 1975, a trend that continues. Millions of shift workers average less than five hours per work day. Previous studies, however, have measured only the cognitive consequences of sleep loss.

Van Cauter and colleagues Karine Spiegel and Rachel Leproult chose to focus instead on the physiologic effects of sleep loss, how sleep deprivation altered basic bodily functions such regulating blood-sugar levels, storing away energy from food and the production of various hormones.

They followed 11 healthy young men for 16 consecutive nights. The first three nights the subjects were allowed to sleep for eight hours, from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. The next six nights they slept four hours, from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. The following seven nights they spent 12 hours in bed, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. All subjects received identical diets.

The researchers constantly assessed each volunteer's wakefulness and heart rate. They performed sleep studies on the last two eight-hour nights, the last two four-hour nights, and the first and last two 12-hour nights. They performed glucose tolerance tests on the fifth day of sleep deprivation and the fifth day of sleep recovery and monitored glucose and hormone levels every 30 minutes on the sixth day of deprivation and of recovery.

They found profound alterations of glucose metabolism, in some situations resembling patients with type-2 diabetes, during sleep deprivation. When tested during the height of their sleep debt, subjects took 40 percent longer than normal to regulate their blood sugar levels following a high-carbohydrate meal. Their ability to secrete insulin and to respond to insulin both decreased by about 30 percent. A similar decrease in acute insulin response is an early marker of diabetes.

The differences were particularly marked when tested in the mornings. "Under sleep debt conditions, our young lean subjects would have responded to a morning glucose tolerance test in a manner consistent with current diagnostic criteria for impaired glucose tolerance," note the authors. Impaired glucose tolerance is an early symptom of diabetes.

Sleep deprivation also altered the production and action of other hormones, dampening the secretion of thyroid stimulating hormone and increasing blood levels of cortisol, especially during the afternoon and evening. Elevated evening cortisol levels are typical of much older subjects and are thought to be related to age-related health problems such as insulin resistance and memory impairment.

All of these abnormalities quickly returned to baseline during the recovery period, when subjects spent 12 hours in bed. In fact, as the subjects spent more than eight hours a night in bed, their laboratory values moved beyond the "normal" or baseline standards, suggesting that even eight hours of sleep does not produce the fully rested state. Young adults may function best after more than eight hours of rest each night.

"While the primary function of sleep may very well be cerebral restoration," note the authors, "our findings indicate that sleep loss also has consequences for peripheral function that, if maintained chronically, could have long term adverse health effects."

Funding for this study was supplied by the Research Network on Mind-Body Interactions of the MacArthur Foundation (Chicago), the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the National Institutes of Health.

University of Chicago Medical Center

Related Diabetes Articles from Brightsurf:

New diabetes medication reduced heart event risk in those with diabetes and kidney disease
Sotagliflozin - a type of medication known as an SGLT2 inhibitor primarily prescribed for Type 2 diabetes - reduces the risk of adverse cardiovascular events for patients with diabetes and kidney disease.

Diabetes drug boosts survival in patients with type 2 diabetes and COVID-19 pneumonia
Sitagliptin, a drug to lower blood sugar in type 2 diabetes, also improves survival in diabetic patients hospitalized with COVID-19, suggests a multicenter observational study in Italy.

Making sense of diabetes
Throughout her 38-year nursing career, Laurel Despins has progressed from a bedside nurse to a clinical nurse specialist and has worked in medical, surgical and cardiac intensive care units.

Helping teens with type 1 diabetes improve diabetes control with MyDiaText
Adolescence is a difficult period of development, made more complex for those with Type 1 diabetes mellitus (T1DM).

Diabetes-in-a-dish model uncovers new insights into the cause of type 2 diabetes
Researchers have developed a novel 'disease-in-a-dish' model to study the basic molecular factors that lead to the development of type 2 diabetes, uncovering the potential existence of major signaling defects both inside and outside of the classical insulin signaling cascade, and providing new perspectives on the mechanisms behind insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes and possibly opportunities for the development of novel therapeutics for the disease.

Tele-diabetes to manage new-onset diabetes during COVID-19 pandemic
Two new case studies highlight the use of tele-diabetes to manage new-onset type 1 diabetes in an adult and an infant during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Genetic profile may predict type 2 diabetes risk among women with gestational diabetes
Women who go on to develop type 2 diabetes after having gestational, or pregnancy-related, diabetes are more likely to have particular genetic profiles, suggests an analysis by researchers at the National Institutes of Health and other institutions.

Maternal gestational diabetes linked to diabetes in children
Children and youth of mothers who had gestational diabetes during pregnancy are at increased risk of diabetes themselves, according to new research published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

Two diabetes medications don't slow progression of type 2 diabetes in youth
In youth with impaired glucose tolerance or recent-onset type 2 diabetes, neither initial treatment with long-acting insulin followed by the drug metformin, nor metformin alone preserved the body's ability to make insulin, according to results published online June 25 in Diabetes Care.

People with diabetes visit the dentist less frequently despite link between diabetes, oral health
Adults with diabetes are less likely to visit the dentist than people with prediabetes or without diabetes, finds a new study led by researchers at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing and East Carolina University's Brody School of Medicine.

Read More: Diabetes News and Diabetes Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to