Sleep loss impairs glucose regulation (but exercise helps)

Posted on March 13th 2019 (10 months)

When most people think about certain lifestyle factors that affect insulin sensitivity and blood glucose levels, they think about macronutrient composition, or calories, or fasting, or exercise (and lack of), but they don’t often think about sleep. However, several studies have established causation showing that sleep duration is a major determinant of insulin sensitivity. For example, studies that have shown that reductions in sleep duration over multiple nights result in impaired glucose tolerance and insulin resistance in healthy individuals. Another study showed that sleep restriction to only four hours of sleep during two or more nights reduced glucose tolerance by 40% and reduced the acute insulin response to in healthy subjects by 30%. Even a single night of sleep restricting healthy individuals to four-hours of sleep led to acute insulin resistance. This really highlights the important role sleep duration plays in insulin sensitivity and glucose regulation.

"It's all part of the energy intake expenditure system. And sleep, if you think about like a weighing scale between sort of energy expenditure and energy consumption, sleep, if you're not getting it, just annihilates that balance." - Matthew Walker, Ph.D. Click To Tweet

Mechanisms impairing glucose regulation

There have been several mechanisms that have been shown to cause glucose dysregulation, including:

  • Changes in muscle and liver glucose absorption
  • Changes in beta cell sensitivity to glucose (glucose intolerance) which consequently affects how much insulin produced

In a FoundMyFitness episode with Dr. Matthew Walker, he discussed some of these mechanisms including how sleep restriction causes the beta cells in your pancreas to stop being sensitive to the signal of high glucose. Watch the relevant six-minute episode highlight now.

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) ameliorates some of these effects caused by poor sleep

High-intensity interval training has been shown to ameliorate some of the acute insulin resistance caused by poor sleep, which is a good thing! In people that have been deprived of sleep, there is some evidence that exercise can ameliorate some of the increases in blood glucose that sleep deprivation induces.

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