Home / News and Events / Notes From Your Community / Sleep necessary to ward off unhealthy conditions

Sleep necessary to ward off unhealthy conditions

“What’s so great about sleep?” I asked someone who’s good at it and looks forward to really sleeping in. She replied, “It’s fun and productive! People just don’t realize that!”

The facts not only back her up, they point to bonuses for diabetes and weight management.

Why is sleep fun? Our minds are unchained in sleep. During REM sleep, when we’re dreaming, our brain shuffles thoughts and forms new associations. We’re uninhibited and imaginative.

Why is it productive? Deep sleep rests the busy part of our brain that controls our emotions, decisions and social interactions. It repairs cells and the immune system and produces growth hormone. Without enough sleep, we can’t learn as well and may become depressed.

Sleep, diabetes and weight management are intertwined and all three are in trouble in the United States. We are sleeping less (losing one to two hours a night), getting more type 2 diabetes (8.3 percent of total population, but 27 percent of people older than 64) and gaining weight (33 percent are overweight and 36 percent are obese). A vicious cycle develops: sleep loss leads to diabetes and weight gain, which causes more sleep loss.

For example, a 2012 study with 21 participants who lost sleep for three weeks found that their bodies made less insulin after a meal so their blood sugar went up. Their energy level went down at a rate that could cause a 13-pound weight gain in a year. Sleep loss also can cause our bodies to become more resistant to insulin, making diabetes more likely and harder to control.

Sleep breathing problems also can lead to weight gain and diabetes. obstructive sleep apnea can raise stress hormones (Cortisol) and increase abdominal fat and insulin resistance. One study of severely obese youth found that 74 percent had sleep apnea. Low oxygen can aggravate diabetes foot nerve pain (neuropathy), which can interfere with sleep.

Weight can increase as sleep loss makes appetite harder to manage and activity less frequent. Participants in a “short sleep” study were

24 percent more hungry, especially for sweet and salty foods, likely because of hormones that control appetite (Ghrelin and Leptin). Physical activity often decreases after sleep loss, and a 2012 study found that sitting for long periods raises the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

How do you know if sleep is a problem for you? Look for “excessive daytime sleepiness,” “microsleeps” during the day, or falling asleep too quickly at night (in less than five minutes). People with neurological or brain injury, heart failure or restless leg syndrome are more at risk.

What to do? Break the cycle. Ask your doctor to evaluate your sleep. If you need a C-Pap or Bi-Pap machine, stick with it and get help to adjust to it. Light, especially from TVs or computers, disrupts our sleep/wake cycle; exercise helps restore it (but not near bedtime). Tobacco, caffeine and alcohol decrease sleep quality. Diabetes education and prevention programs can help as well.

The person I know who is such a good sleeper is very protective of her sleep space and time. She commits to her sleep, prepares her surroundings, darkens her room with curtains and looks forward to it. Sleep is worth fighting for. Be loyal to yourself and your need for sleep.

Sue Kirchmyer is a registered nurse and diabetes nurse educator with Community Physician Group at Community Medical Center.