Is Diabetes Due to Bad Sleep?

When I started eating honey at bedtime to improve my sleep, my fasting blood sugar values suddenly improved. Alternate-day fasting had pushed them into the mid-80s; now they were often in the high 70s, values I had never seen before. Without long walks and alternate-day fasting, my fasting blood sugar values would have been more than 100, which is pre-diabetic.

This made me wonder: Does bad sleep cause diabetes? Plenty of evidence, I found, supports this idea. Here is one example:

Just three consecutive nights of inadequate sleep can elevate a person’s risk [of diabetes] to a degree roughly equivalent to gaining 20 to 30 pounds, according to a 2007 study at the University of Chicago. . . .This revelation backs up previous research from Yale and the New England Research Institutes, which showed that people who clock six hours or less of sleep a night are twice as likely to develop diabetes in their lifetime as those who snooze seven hours.

Here is another:

In the study, published in the October issue of the Journal SLEEP, short sleepers reported a higher prevalence of coronary heart disease, stroke and diabetes, in addition to obesity and frequent mental distress, compared with optimal sleepers who reported sleeping seven to nine hours on average in a 24-hour period. The same was true for long sleepers, and the associations with coronary heart disease, stroke and diabetes were even more pronounced with more sleep.

Maybe there is something to it.




4 Replies to “Is Diabetes Due to Bad Sleep?”

  1. An interesting finding, but I’d like to see this cross-checked against populations that we know suffer from periods of very little sleep, like countries with mandatory army service. For instance, is the rate of diabetes in Israel abnormally high? Everyone does army service there which involves many many consecutive days of very little sleep. Did diabetes rates during the great European wars also rise steeply? And then, what about lawyers, finance types, and execs? Obviously there can be confounding factors that are hard to disentangle, but a good starting point would be simply to see if the real world patterns bear out this finding. I would feel much more comfortable if it did. I suspect the real world does not bear this out.

    One of the problems with much of this health research is not just that it’s unreplicatable, but that people never seem to check them against real world facts that are easily observable. The low-carb fantasy gained incredible traction simply from the fact that no one one really cared about looking into the eating patterns of Asians and French and other thin countries. That these are carb heavy countries should have put paid to that theory from day one, yet the theory is still popular in serious circles. Taubes is still doing his thing, incredibly, and against all reason. OF course, the facts about Asia were pointed out, but somehow they were brushed aside or ignored – after all, it’s so far away. There seems to be an interest in only looking at what happens in America. Stephen Guynenet has his influential theory of food addiction based on delicious food as a driver of obesity – a simple glance at thin countries (France, Asia) that eat deliciously should be enough to dismiss that, but the theory still thrives because it seems to fit the American situation so well – as junk food increased, we got fatter. It’s easy to craft a narrative of food addiction around that, even if it involves ignoring global realities, so Guyenet just brushes aside and makes absurd dismissals when the facts about France, etc are pointed out to him.

    Seth: I don’t know of any “real world facts” that show that this idea is wrong. (By bad sleep I don’t mean a few years, such as what happens to Israeli soldiers — I mean many years.) Here is more supporting evidence:

    The association between sleep apnea and diabetes after being corrected for obesity, mentioned in another comment, is also more supporting evidence.

  2. Do you think it’s the honey, specifically, or the sugars? I was thinking of trying a large handful of grapes instead. After dinner I’ve been eating dessert the last week, ice cream or pie, and have slept better but I don’t like the idea of adding sugary desserts to my daily meals. A bit of honey would be fine but it doesn’t have much going for it except the sugar. Grapes may add other benefits nutritionally speaking.

    Seth: I think it’s the sugars. I doubt that the other parts of honey matter.

  3. An extreme case of bad sleep would be people with sleep apnoea.

    Does sleep apnoea correlate with diabetes? If so, is there a common explanation in being fat, or is that just another correlate?

    I understand that sufferers from acromegaly tend to both diabetes and sleep apnoea, so those would be cases of a common explanation (tumour on the pituitary) rather than cause-and-effect.

    1. “Does sleep apnoea correlate with diabetes? If so, is there a common explanation in being fat, or is that just another correlate?”

      There is a strong association between them. This report


      There has long been a recognized association between type 2
      diabetes and OSA, and there is emerging evidence that this
      relationship is likely to be at least partially independent of
      adiposity [25,1,2].

      In other words, the association remains after adjustment for degree of obesity.

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