Workaholics, take heart! Those late hours and early alarms are known to put you at risk for diabetes, but a small study from the University of Colorado at Boulder suggests that if you’re otherwise healthy, there’s an antidote—sleeping in on the weekends.
Two nights in a row of extended sleep—in other words, a weekend—can reverse the effects of restricted sleep the rest of the week. At least that’s true for young, lean men who ate a healthy diet. The study will be published in an upcoming issue of Diabetes Care
Researchers led by Josaine Broussard, PhD, at UC Boulder recruited 19 volunteers for the study. First, they slept normally, spending 8.5 hours in bed for 4 nights. Then the same volunteers were only given 4.5 hours in bed on 4 consecutive nights; they slept an average of 4.3 hours. They were allowed 2 nights of extra sleep afterward, and averaged 9.7 hours of sleep.
After the 4 nights of sleep deprivation, the young men’s insulin sensitivity had declined 23% and their bodies had started to produce extra insulin. But insulin levels returned to normal after the 2 nights of extra sleep and matched what it had been on the nights of normal sleep.
The study subjects were given a controlled diet, which contrasts with what happens in the real world when people are sleep deprived. Those who go without sleep—including shift workers—tend to overeat or eat unhealthy foods, which only makes things worse.
The links among sleep deprivation, less traditional sleep schedules, and diabetes are gaining more attention in recent years as researchers probe the rise in chronic conditions. Frank Hu, MD, PhD, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard’s School of Public Health told Evidence-Based Diabetes Management
in a 2014 interview that rotating shifts in particular produced all kinds of ill effects, especially in women.
Those who are chronically sleep deprived are more likely to develop diabetes and obesity and to suffer cognitive effects, according to the study authors. Broussard noted that this is an area for further study.
“Though this is evidence that weekend catch-up sleep may help someone recover from a sleep-deprived week,” Broussard said, “this was not a long-term study and our subjects went through this process only once. Going forward, we intend to study the effects of extended weekend sleep schedules who repeatedly curtail their weekday sleep.”
Broussard JL, Wroblewski K, Kilkus JM, Tasali E. Two nights of recovery sleep reverses the effects of short-term sleep restriction on diabetes risk. Diabetes Care
[published online January 19, 2016]. 2016. doi: 10.2337/dc15-2214.