Sleep deprivation directly affects blood sugar levels

Research at the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) has shown that a person's blood sugar levels are adversely affected by just a single instance of sleep deprivation. After a sleep of only four hours, the sensitivity to insulin drops by almost a quarter.

Healthy volunteers and patients

The effects are apparent both in healthy volunteers and iin patients with type 1 diabetes. Diabetes patients have to bear in mind that if they have a night with inadequate sleep, they will need to inject extra insulin after eating a meal. It is inadvisable for most people, but particularly for this group of patients, to have their sleep restricted on a regular basis.

Damage to blood vessels

A high level of blood sugar is harmful to blood vessels and organs. For diabetes patients, who have problems regulating their glucose levels, this can lead to vascular disease, damage to their eyesight and disturbed kidney function. So far, little is known about this reduced sensitivity to insulin after an instance of sleep deprivation. 'Changing activity of the autonomous nerve system caused by sleep deprivation probably plays a role,' says Professor Hans Romijn of the Department of Endocrinology. Further research is expected to shed light on this phenomenon.


As part of their research, PhD candidate Esther Donga and her colleagues looked at the effects on glucose levels of a sleep of just four hours. They studied nine healthy volunteers and seven patients with type 1 diabetes. They then compared the regulation of blood sugar in the same group after a sleep of 8.5 hours, using a constant insulin infusion. For both groups, insulin sensitivity dropped by 20 to 25 per cent. This applied both to fatty tissue and to the liver, and probably also to the muscles.

The results appeared recently in the online publication Diabetes Care (Partial sleep restriction decreases insulin sensitivity in type 1 diabetes) and the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism (A single night of partial sleep deprivation induces insulin resistance in multiple metabolic pathways in healthy subjects).

Last Modified: 21-04-2010