Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital of Boston assessed the health of 21 volunteers in a laboratory controlled sleep study that lasted six weeks. Although research has shown that sleep troubles can increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease, the results of this particular study were even more alarming.
Participants were given varying amounts of sleep during the study, with a limit of only 5 1/2 hours per day at one point, with varying times to simulate shift work or jet lag.
According to a news report, there were significant changes in the participants’ bodies:
“Blood sugar levels increased after meals, sometimes to pre-diabetic levels, because the pancreas stopped secreting enough insulin, Buxton reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine.”
While this was happening, their metabolic rate decreased by eight percent, which could lead to a weight gain of 10 to 12 pounds within a year. All of this just from interrupted sleep patterns!
The takeaway from this study is that if you already have risk factors for diabetes, frequent sleep interruptions, from shift work, travel or otherwise, can pose a real threat to your health. If just six weeks of sleep trouble can cause pancreatic functions to start failing, imagine what long term deprivation could do.
If you work a rotating or night shift and finding another job isn’t an option, here are some steps to help reduce your risk of diabetes:
Sleep when you can. Working at night takes time away from family and activities, so the temptation to cut yourself short is huge – I know. Do what you can to keep your sleep pattern as close to normal as possible. If you get off at 3 a.m., train yourself to go straight to bed to get as much sleep as possible during your body’s natural sleep time. Maintain as regular a pattern of sleep as you can – going to bed at roughly the same time every day. Try to get the recommended 7-9 hours every day.
Make healthy food choices. I know when I’m tired, my resistance to junk food is much lower than when I’m well rested. Limit your food choices to those that are healthy, and keep junk food out of the equation altogether. Focus on high fiber, low carb foods, especially when you get the urge to snack for snacking’s sake.
Get that exercise in. You don’t have to do super workouts every day – a 10-15 minute brisk walk is enough to make a difference. Even though you may be tired, exercise is a great way to refresh your mind and body and renew your energy to help you last a little longer during the day (or night).
Relax. Take time to enjoy life and work to reduce your stress levels. Meditation is proven to have many health benefits, including increasing clarity and ability process information.
Put your health first. If you’re working a night job just to bring in a paycheck, consider whether or not you can lower your bills and find a day shift job. It’s amazing how much you don’t need when you start shifting your priorities.
Remember, you are in charge of your life, and you only get to live it once. Don’t let poor conditions erode your health and happiness – you’re worth more than that.