The sleep battle of the sexes continues. Amidst recent reports regarding how men and women sleep differently, a study released this week in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism adds to the debate with findings that, depending on how much sleep they logged, men and women differ in how they maintain normal blood sugar levels.
Let’s take a quick step back. We eat food, which gets broken down into sugars. The cells in our body convert sugar into energy with the help of the hormone insulin. Insulin regulates blood sugar levels by acting as a key that unlocks the cells so sugar can enter, and stores excess sugar for when blood sugar levels get low. Problems start to arise when cells become resistant to insulin, which can lead to Type 2 diabetes. Cool?
Why the interest in how sleep and insulin are related? People today are getting 1.5-2 hours less sleep a night on average compared to folks 50 years ago, and in that same time period, the number of people with diabetes has doubled. This isn’t a coincidence, say numerous scientists.
So, researchers from the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam used data collected between 2002-2004 as part of the European Group for the Study of Insulin Resistance to find the correlation. They identified 788 healthy, middle-aged adults from the cohort who had all been tested for insulin sensitivity (how well cells respond to insulin by taking up sugars), beta-cell function (cells that produce insulin) and sleep duration using the gold standard insulin test and a fancy accelerometer that estimates sleep durations.
Their findings show that men who slept either too little or too much had lower insulin sensitivity and beta-cell function compared to those who slept an average of 7 hours a night. This suggests that, compared to men who are getting an average amount of sleep a night, those who are either not getting enough sleep or sleeping too long are at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. (Oddly, women who logged too little or too much sleep showed better sugar metabolism compared to those clocking seven hours a night.).