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Wake-Up Call: Can Poor Sleep Kill You?

'I’ll sleep when I’m dead,' goes the expression. Unfortunately, that may be sooner rather than later if you keep skipping out on shut-eye.

Managing type 2 diabetes takes significant effort on a variety of fronts. These include watching your carb and calorie intake; working out every day or nearly every day; taking your meds, if necessary; and pricking your finger periodically throughout the day to measure your blood glucose levels.

By comparison, sleep seems like the simple part of T2D (Type 2 Diabetes) management. You lie down, doze off, and then wake up 7-or-8 hours later, feeling refreshed. No big deal, right?

It is! Americans face a chronic sleep shortage. The sleep needs of young adults have been estimated at 8.5 hours, yet only 14 percent of them report sleeping that long or more on weekdays. They're not the only ones who get shortchanged, either. A study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that while subjects averaged 7.5 hours in bed, they were asleep for barely more than six hours.

Proper sleep is a critical aspect of managing wayward blood sugar and - as I mention in my book Sugar Nation - the area where I most often fall short in managing my own pre-diabetic condition. Quality sleep is important for metabolic and endocrine function, and research shows that not getting enough of it may be a contributing factor to obesity and diabetes. Obesity often causes obstructive sleep apnea, which in turn can further disrupt metabolic health.

Insomnia By Zzzz Numbers

Lack of sleep is also harmful to your heart, and heart disease and diabetes often go hand-in-hand. In a study of 218,155 Australian adults ages 45 and older, participants who slept six hours were at greater risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke and hypertension than those who slept seven hours. Even one hour makes a big difference.

Shortened sleep leads to diabetes in part because it leads to weight gain. After analyzing data from the 2008 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey, researchers found a strong association between poor sleep quality and BMI (body mass index) levels in United States adults.

Normal-weight people reported not getting enough sleep on 7.9 days over the preceding month, while those in the highest weight category reported 10.5 days of insufficient sleep.

Equally important for diabetics is the sleep-exercise connection. Exercise is essential for managing diabetes, and people who get a healthy amount of sleep may be more likely to exercise than people who do not.

When scientists evaluated the health of more than 8,000 Japanese men, they found a link between healthy sleep duration and regular exercise. Participants who banked at least seven hours per night were the most likely to exercise regularly. Likewise, people who slept less than five hours had the most irregular exercise habits.

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In Search Of Sleep Solutions

How can you avoid the pitfalls of not getting the quantity and quality of sleep you need?

If your nights are filled with tossing and turning instead of REM cycles and dreams, you might be tempted to drown yourself in NyQuil.

Don't do it! These tips put you to sleep faster than Mr. Sandman on a pixie dust binge.

1/
Work Out Regularly, For Starters

In a study of about 3,000 adults aged 18-to-85, getting 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous exercise was linked to a 65 percent improvement in quality of sleep.

2/
Avoid Simple Sugars Before Bed

These can spike your blood sugar, leading to a nocturnal crash. Your glucose-starved brain will detect this change and sound internal alarms that will wake you up. It's a survival instinct.

3/
Cool It

Turn your bedroom into a cool, dark, sleep-cave! According to the New York Times, studies have found that, in general, optimal temperature for sleep is 60-to-68 degrees Fahrenheit. As your body temp decreases, your sleepiness increases.

4/
Darkness, Duh

Are you afraid of the dark? Get over it. Todd Arnedt, director of the University of Michigan Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program, says that bright light too close to bedtime can make sleeping difficult.

Light tells your brain it's daytime instead of night, making your biological sleep clock turn off. Light doesn't frighten away closet monsters; falling asleep quickly does.

5/
Good Night, Sweet Electronics

Your television, no matter how flat the screen is, does not belong in the bedroom. Cell phones, iPads, and laptops should be turned off well before you hit the sack.

A sleep study by the National Sleep Foundation found that 95% of people surveyed used some type of electronic device within an hour before bed.

Dr. Lauren Hale, one of the researchers, says that light-emitting electronic devices can suppress melatonin, making it hard to fall asleep.

6/
Nightcap No-No

Of course a giant glass of Cognac would put anyone out, but staying asleep after some serious boozing is tough. After your body processes the alcohol, sleep is often fragmented by frequent wake-ups.

Passing out from alcohol is not a healthy type of sleep; it takes hours away from your natural sleep cycle. If you must imbibe, do it at least three hours before you go to bed.

7/
Mattress Matters

Sleeping with your spouse on a full? Napping with your butt on a spring? If your mattress isn't comfortable, sleep probably won't come easy.

Professor Michael Decker explains that lying on your body for extended periods of time reduces blood flow, which can cause pain and/or pressure. Your mattress should reduce this pressure, support your spine and cushion your whole body.

It should also be big enough for you and your partner to sleep without an elbow in the face.

— Additional reporting by Cassie Smith


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About The Author

Before joining Bodybuilding.com, Jeff O'Connell was executive writer at Men's Health and editor-in-chief at Muscle & Fitness.

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bleam123

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bleam123

Great article, I recon sleep is very important for both health, brain, and muscle gain and fat loss. Sleeping is extremly important and still people does not seem to sleep enough? I Go to bed 8hours 20minutes before my clock is suppose to wake me up. I am most likley to be very alert when I wake up because that I tend to get my sleep right.. It's the stressful society we live in which causes us to sleep less, work more, "you gotta do that etc.."

Jun 26, 2012 5:40am | report
SugarNation

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SugarNation

Thanks. Most sleep experts recommend taking exactly your approach--a very structured regimen.

Jun 29, 2012 4:35pm | report
TheSissons

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TheSissons

I average 5.5 hours of BROKEN sleep a day. And if I had to average the number of wake-UPS is say 4 times per night, thanks to 2 infants in the home topped with a spouse that sleeps through almost anything. Looking at my shape now campsites to when I slept 6-8 strait hours as a soldier on the same diet there's an obvious connection with BMI

Jun 26, 2012 11:45am | report
SugarNation

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SugarNation

Your own experience lines up with the research, which finds a direct connection between lack of sleep and BMI.

Jun 29, 2012 4:36pm | report
edjcc

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edjcc

Gd article but I have to admit I am not a big sleeper. I am a night owl avg. 5hrs sleep

Jun 26, 2012 1:23pm | report
ryand7899

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ryand7899

I'm the same way. Working on it!

Jun 26, 2012 3:44pm | report
SugarNation

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SugarNation

Thanks for the kind words, and I'm envious. I couldn't function on anything close to 5 hours of sleep.

Jun 29, 2012 4:37pm | report
Holly444

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Holly444

I only sleep really deeply if I consistenly workout HARD, and avoid a full tummy at bedtime. Overindulging before bed makes for a horrible night's sleep. It's hard, but I really do sleep best on a nearly empty stomach.

Jun 26, 2012 1:53pm | report
SugarNation

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SugarNation

Whatever works for you is great. The one thing to avoid right before bed is a rush of simple sugars. When your blood sugar crashes, your panicked brain will wake you up to find food.

Jun 29, 2012 4:39pm | report
ryand7899

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ryand7899

I love this article!

Jun 26, 2012 3:45pm | report
SugarNation

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SugarNation

Thank you. I really appreciate that feedback!

Jun 29, 2012 4:41pm | report
RodriAbdias

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RodriAbdias

It's funny because I TREASURE Sleep and my BF is one of those "I'll sleep when I'm dead" guys. For years, I've been struggling to get him to bed at a decent time but that didn't happen till recently when he FINALLY REALIZED part of his workout regime is to sleep! Now we're in bed by 10pm. :-)

Jun 27, 2012 10:03am | report
SugarNation

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SugarNation

Thanks for the insight. I think time is pretty unforgiving--it gets harder to shortchange sleep as we age a bit. I'm sure his workouts are benefiting now.

Jun 29, 2012 4:44pm | report
mbogue

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mbogue

Ugh. I learned from experience how necessary sleep is. For most of 2011, my chronic asthma acted up, I was anemic and had other health issues. We got them under control and I was still exhausted, sometimes listing to one side when I walked, walking into walls at work. It was like I was drunk, but without the fun. :) My dr. realized I was sleep deprived -- I would sleep at night but wake up often and not really get a deep sleep. I talked in my sleep, tossed and turned, etc. I now take 1mg of Klonopin to sleep and it has been a miracle. After some time I started exercising again and now am eating right. On days that I swim a mile, I don't even need the 1mg to sleep.

I feel better today than I have in years, and getting sleep was the foundation for what I'm doing now to live a healthier life. My goal is to eventually not need that 1mg of Klonopin at all.

Jun 29, 2012 7:50pm | report
SugarNation

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SugarNation

With fitness, you're really only as strong as your weakest link. Glad you identified yours as sleep and remedied the situation. Congrats on your progress!

Jun 29, 2012 9:59pm | report
bitchplease

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bitchplease

F this type 2 diabetes ****! TALK ABOUT TYPE 1 DIABETES FOR ONCE PLEASE

Jul 1, 2012 9:08pm | report
SugarNation

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SugarNation

It's a good point. There are nine (or so) type 2's for every one type 1, but that's still a huge number--and there was nothing type 1's could do to prevent getting it. Duly noted for future content.

Jul 2, 2012 10:40pm | report
NiasBalata

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NiasBalata

very good article thanks, I think most of people know the importance of sleeping enough but sometimes I wish a day was 30 hours not 24! just to can get enough sleep, I wake up at 6:30 am go to work & bact at 5:30 pm.
then after only 1 hour or less I go to the gym then when back home I find a lot of day life issues with the family which force me sometimes to sleep at 12:30 am.
I'm really struggle to get 8 sleeping hours a day.

Dec 13, 2012 12:03am | report
  • Body Stats
  • ht: 15'1"
  • wt: 181.28 lbs
  • bf: 17.3%
Showing 1 - 18 of 18 Comments

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