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Sleeping less increases risks for diabetes, cancer, and early death, according to a recent study.

Researchers found that middle-aged adults with high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease or stroke are at increased risk for cancer and early death when sleeping less than 6 hours per day. The study also suggests that those who regularly sleep fewer than six hours a night have double the increased risk of diabetes, while a similar report shows those at rest for fewer than five hours have triple the risk.

Published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the research analysed data of more than 1,600 adults, (20 to 74 years old, more than half women). The study found that people with diabetes or hypertension who sleep for fewer than six hours a day have twice the increased risk of death from heart disease or stroke and triple the increased risk of death from cancer-associated diseases.

Sleep deprivation is an overlooked risk factor for type 2 diabetes

Sleep deprivation is an overlooked risk factor for type 2 diabetes.  In particular, a decrease in “deep” sleep—which is thought to be the most restorative stage — seems to play a major role in maintaining proper insulin sensitivity and blood glucose control.

“Our study suggests that achieving normal sleep may be protective for some people with these health conditions and risks,” said lead study author Julio Fernandez-Mendoza, Ph.D., associate professor at Pennsylvania State College of Medicine and sleep psychologist at the Sleep Research & Treatment Center of the Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania, USA. “However, further research is needed to examine whether improving and increasing sleep through medical or behavioral therapies can reduce risk of early death.”

The study results included:

  • People who had high blood pressure or diabetes and slept less than 6 hours had twice the increased risk of dying from heart disease or stroke.
  • People who had heart disease or stroke and had less than 6 hours had three times the increased risk of dying from cancer.
  • The increased risk of early death for people with high blood pressure or diabetes was negligible if they slept for more than 6 hours.

“Short sleep duration should be included as a useful risk factor to predict the long-term outcomes of people with these health conditions and as a target of primary and specialized clinical practices,” Fernandez-Mendoza said. “I’d like to see policy changes so that sleep consultations and studies become a more integral part of our healthcare systems. Better identification of people with specific sleep issues would potentially lead to improved prevention, more complete treatment approaches, better long-term outcomes and less healthcare usage.”


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