Women with sleeping problems at higher risk for Type 2 diabetes

There are several causes of type 2 diabetes, but now a study reveals that women who have sleep problems may be at an increased risk for this disorder. This latest study done in Boston by Dr Yanping Li has therapeutic implications for healthcare providers. They will need to inquire about sleeping habits of their patients and initiate measures to help prevent diabetes.

Dr Li and her colleagues observed that there was a strong link between poor sleep patterns and type 2 diabetes. They suggest that this may be partially explained by presence of depression, hypertension and increased body mass index.

The researchers looked at data from 133,353 women who did not have heart disease, diabetes or cancer. They then inquired if the women had the following problems: 1) sleeping less than 6 hours a day 2) snoring 3) rotating shift work and 4) sleep apnea. Over a ten year period they then looked at which of these women developed type 2 diabetes. After adjusting for lifestyle factors and taking into account presence of hypertension, depression and increased body mass index, they noted that women who experienced two sleeping problems had twice the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. If the women have other conditions present, then the risk was increased fourfold.

Further, there was a strong association between rotating shift work and type 2 diabetes, implying that diabetes was more likely to occur in women with shift work and who had difficult sleeping.

So how do sleep issues cause Type 2 diabetes?

At least 20% of the population in the US has sleeping difficulties and these numbers are underestimate because many people never seek help. Over the years, the number of people complaining of difficulty with sleep have been increasing. At the same time, the number of type 2 diabetics has also increased.

So how does difficulty in sleep cause diabetes? The researchers believe that the difficulty with sleeping may be influencing metabolism and biochemical pathways that affect circadian rhythms and other physiological functions including changes in hormones that regulate appetite-which may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. It is well known that sleep disturbances can cause hypertension by increasing sympathetic discharge, which in turn also affects insulin sensitivity.

The authors of the study caution that these findings should not be generalized to both genders. Nevertheless asking about sleeping patterns should become routine when seeing patients. Physicians in the past have never inquired about sleep habits. The question that arises next is what should physicians do if a patient with shift work is not able to sleep?

Edited -Dr. Lin

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