If men sleep too long or too little, they’re at greater risk of developing diabetes. But for women, the opposite appears to be true, according to a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism
The journal, the official publication of the Endocrine Society, reports on findings from a subset of people who took part in a larger European study examining insulin sensitivity and cardiovascular disease. Unlike many studies involving links between diabetes and sleep, this one was not limited to people with known risks.
“In a group of nearly 800 healthy people, we observed sex-specific relationships between sleep duration and glucose metabolism,” said Femke Rutters, PhD, of the VU Medical Center in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, who was the senior author on the study.
Researchers measured both sleep and physical activity for 788 people using an accelerometer, which tracked their movement. To gauge risk for diabetes, they used a clamp that measured how effectively the body was using insulin, which processes blood sugar. Men were found to have an impaired ability to process sugar if they slept either far more or far less than the average of 7 hours.
Women, by contrast, were more
responsive to insulin if they slept either more or less than average. Their beta cells—the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin—had improved function when their sleep was above or below normal. According to a statement from the Endocrine Society, the results suggest that losing sleep does not put healthy women at increased risk of diabetes.
The society notes that diabetes prevalence has doubled in the United States in the past 50 years, and people have reported sleeping 1.5 to 2 hours less each night over that same period.
Rutters F, Besson H, Walker M, et al. The association between sleep duration, insulin sensitivity, and β-cell function [published online June 29, 2016]. J Clin Endocrinol Metab
. 2016; doi: 10.1210/jc.2016-1045.