Many of us don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis. It might be due to a sleep disorder, busy social life, new baby, long working hours, shift work or just staying up too late binge-watching Netflix. But not getting enough quality sleep can have significant implications for health.
Large survey studies that ask about sleep habits and health show sleeping less than six or seven hours on average per night increases the risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
A growing body of research is beginning to show how habitual inadequate sleep might alter our physiology and lead to the development of chronic disease.(Watch: People share their last sex dream. Post continues after video.)
The three main areas of response to sleep deprivation that have been examined are metabolic (processing and using energy from food), immune (protection against disease) and heart function.
To examine how these systems react to sleep deprivation in healthy people, volunteers are recruited to studies that require them to live in a laboratory environment from several days to weeks. Their sleep time is manipulated and access to food and drink, light, temperature, physical activity and social interaction are all controlled.
In these studies, participants may go without sleep for one or several nights (total sleep deprivation) or reduce sleep time for several weeks (partial sleep deprivation) to examine the impacts of changes to sleep duration on metabolic, immune and heart function.
Metabolic and endocrine responses
A good deal of research suggests sleep loss impairs glucose metabolism, the process in which sugars from food intake is processed and stored or used to produce energy. Laboratory studies have consistently found short-term sleep loss decreases glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity in healthy, young, lean adults.