NEW YORK (CBS NEWS) - It’s no secret that our bodies need sleep to function at their best. Shift workers who vary their work and sleep schedules are especially at risk of not getting enough shut-eye. But a new study confirms that those workers, and anyone who doesn’t get enough sleep, can harm their health by raising their risk for diabetes and obesity.
Previous studies of shift workers and similar groups suggest that sleep patterns which are inconsistent with our body’s “internal clock” could lead to health problems. For this new study, researchers instead looked at 21 healthy participants, and put them through experiments that mimicked the sleep patterns of shift workers or those of people with recurring jet lag.
In the six-week study, published in the April 11 issue of Science Translational Medicine, 21 men and women started out by getting an “optimal” 10 hours of sleep per night, and followed that with three weeks of about 5.5 hours of sleep that varied between day or night, such as a shift worker may experience. The study ended by participants getting nine nights of “recovery sleep” at their usual slumber time. Participants ranged in age from their 20s to their 60s, and lived in dimly lit rooms without windows to prevent their bodies from adjusting to day and night.
By study’s end, the researchers saw that restricting sleep and disrupting the body’s clock, or circadian rhythm, decreased metabolism among participants and caused a spike in their blood glucose after eating, a sign that the pancreas isn’t producing enough insulin. The researchers say that could translate to an extra 10 pounds of weight gain each year and an increased risk for diabetes.
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