Sleeping more on the weekend can reduce diabetes risk associated with sleep loss

Short-term sleep restrictions during a typical work week can increase the risk of developing diabetes by as much as 16 percent.

A new study published today in Diabetes Care has found that two consecutive nights of extended sleep or a typical weekend sleep-in appears to counteract the increased risk of diabetes.

The study recruited 19 healthy young men as volunteers and put them on a calorie-controlled diet. After four nights of restricted sleep, at an average of 4.3 hours per night, their insulin sensitivity decreased by 23 percent and their diabetes risk increased by 16 percent. After two nights of extended sleep, at an average of 9.7 hours, their insulin sensitivity and the risk of diabetes returned to normal sleep levels.

We spoke with study author Josiane L. Broussard, University of Colorado at Boulder, about the study.

ResearchGate: How do short-term sleep restrictions affect us?

Josiane Broussard: Short-term sleep loss impairs insulin sensitivity, increases inflammation, increases stress hormones, impairs cognitive abilities and learning and memory. Almost everything is negatively impacted by sleep loss.

RG: I think everyone loves a sleep in on the weekend, what encouraged you to study the effects of extended weekend sleep?

JB: We and other labs have shown that sleep loss impairs insulin sensitivity and increases an individual's risk for developing diabetes. We are often asked whether these impairments are reversible, and this is what this study sought to examine.

RG: Can you explain your study’s design and results?

JB: In our study, people lived in the lab on two separate occasions. In one they had the opportunity to sleep for four nights for 8.5 hours each night. In the other they had four nights of 4.5 hours in bed, followed by two nights of extended sleep (one night was 12 hours, the next night was 10 hours). We tested insulin sensitivity after normal sleep, sleep loss and recovery sleep.

RG: What do make of recent studies suggesting that extended sleep on weekends may be bad for people?

JB: There is a U-shaped association between sleep amount and health outcomes, but at this point, we don't know the contribution of co-morbidities such as depression and sleep apnea that may be leading to longer sleep times in these population studies, as opposed to people who are "true" long sleepers.

RG: Do you feel that sample size and study length were sufficient to make a general statement about the health benefits of sleeping in on the weekend?

JB: Yes, these are young healthy lean men and the study was conducted once. We don't know if people can recover if the behavior is repeated every week. On the plus side, it gives us some hope that if there is no way to extend sleep during the week, people should try very hard to protect their sleep when they do get an opportunity to sleep in and sleep as much as possible to pay back the sleep debt. It is likely that if any group of people suffer from sleep loss and it is impairing their health, getting extra sleep will be beneficial.

RG: Do you have plans for future studies?

JB: It will be important to look at this behavior when it is repeated--as in the real world--and also in other groups of people.


Image courtesy of Dean Hochman.