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Sleep Deprivation, Gut Changes, and Metabolic Disease

Sleep deprivation and microbes

Researchers from Uppsala University published a new study in the journal, Molecular Metabolism, stating that sleep deprivation alters the level of gut bacteria that has previously been linked to dysfunctional metabolic health, including diseases like diabetes and insulin resistance.

The changes in the diversity and composition of the bacteria, or gut microbiota, have been directly associated to common chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and obesity.  Furthermore, these conditions are associated with loss of quality sleep.  It is uncertain if sleep deprivation actually leads to the changes in the gut microbiota, however.

Keeping this thought in mind, Dr. Christian Benedict, neuroscience associate professor, along with Dr. Jonathan Cedernaes, MD, PhD, worked with scientists at the German Institute of Human Nutrition Potsdam-Rehbruecke on this project.  They focused primarily on the sleep habits of nine healthy men who were of normal weight.  They wanted to determine if restricting sleep to four hours a night for two days altered their gut bacteria.  This was compared to people who get the normal amount of sleep, which is about eight hours a night.

Dr. Cedernaes noted in his findings that there was no evidence suggesting any changes in the diversity of the gut bacteria after restricting sleep.  However, he does note that this was an expected result, given the short-term nature of the restriction and the very small sample size.  When groups of bacteria were specifically analyzed in other studies, however, they did find changes in the gut that were similar to those found in obese patients when compared to people of normal weight.

As with all new findings, larger samples and longer clinical interventions are needed to completely investigate the extent of these microbiota alterations, as it is indicative in the other studies that these changes could have negative health consequences that are attributed to sleep loss, like insulin resistance and weight gain.

As noted by Dr. Benedict, the participants in this study were over 20% less sensitive to insulin after losing sleep.  Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas and used to break down sugars in the blood.  It is not clear if there is any link between sleep loss, gut bacteria changes, and this decreased insulin sensitivity.  This tells us that, in the short term at least, there may not be a link between curtailed sleep, gut bacteria changes, and insulin sensitivity, so linking it to diabetes may not be indicated.

The gut microbiota analyzed in this study is extremely rich, but its functional role is not yet understood or characterized.  In the future, research should be able to determine the functional role and composition of this microbiota, as well as determine whether it plays a role in how individual humans respond both metabolically and cognitively to sleep loss.



Rachael Herman is a professional writer with an extensive background in medical writing, research, and language development. Her hobbies include hiking in the Rockies, cooking, and reading.

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New Recommendations to Avoid Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Baby Sleeping

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has updated their policy on best sleep practices to avoid sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).  The policy titled, SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Updated 2016 Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleep Environment, uses new studies to validate their finding, which is that parents and infants should sleep in the same room; however, they should use different surfaces and never on a couch, soft surface, or armchair.

This is the first update to sleep recommendations by the Academy since 2011.

New evidence from studies suggests that sharing a bedroom reduces risk when done for the first six months, at a minimum, and for the first year of life for the most benefit.

The policy statement is set to be released Monday, 10/24, at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition, which will be held in San Francisco, CA.  The report was originally published in the journal, Pediatrics, and it cites new evidence that suggests recommendations for bedside and in-bed sleepers, as well as benefits of skin-to-skin contact with newborns.  The article included recommendations for how to make a safe infant sleep environment.

Dr. Rachel Moon, MD, FAAP, lead author of the article, notes that many parents can become overwhelmed with having a newborn at home, so the goal of AAP is to give sound guidance on sleep positions and locations for their infants.  Dr. Moon adds that babies should never be placed on cushioned chairs, sofas, or couches, even if someone is laying with them.  These surfaces can be dangerous for an infant.

SIDS and other sleep-related deaths, like accidental suffocation or strangulation and ill-defined deaths, account for approximately 3500 infant mortalities every year in the United States.  This number has decreased since the 1990s after the AAP initiated their sleep campaign, but the number has plateaued recently.

Recommendations for an infant safe sleep environment include the following, according to the AAP:

  • Use a firm sleep surface like a bassinet or crib with a tight fitted sheet, and place the infant on his or her back.
  • Avoid soft products like extra blankets, pillows, soft toys, and bumpers. Keep the crib bare and free of anything that could wind up over the infant’s face or cause overheating.
  • For the first year of life (or at least the first six months), parents should share a bedroom with their infant, but not the same sleeping surface. Room-sharing has been known to decrease risk of SIDS by 50%.
  • Do not expose the baby to alcohol, drugs, or smoke.

In addition to the above, Dr. Moon and colleagues recommend skin-to-skin contact immediately after the baby is born, regardless of how they were delivered or how they are feeding.  Doing this for the first hour of life helps decrease the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related deaths.

As additional protection against SIDS, the AAP recommends breastfeeding, followed by immediately putting the baby in their sleeping space.

Dr. Lori Feldman-Winter, MD, FAAP, who is a member of the SIDS Task Force and another author of this new policy, reminds parents that if you feel you might fall asleep while feeding your baby, it is better to feed them in bed rather than on a couch or in a chair.  Move the baby to his or her separate sleeping space as soon as you wake up.  The policy frequently mentions that the baby’s sleep environment should be void of anything that could obstruct breathing or cause the infant to overheat.

Current research says that infants are at higher risk of SIDS between the ages of 1 and 4 months; however, newer studies indicate that soft bedding poses additional dangers to babies even after 4 months.

Further AAP sleep environment recommendations include:

  • Make use of a pacifier for bedtime and naptime.
  • Give infants all recommended vaccinations.
  • Do not use any commercial devices marketed to reduce the risk of SIDS, like positioners and wedges.
  • Facilitate infant physical and mental development with daily supervised, awake tummy time play.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that pediatricians and other family physicians have open conversations with parents about sleep hygiene and practices.  The media can help with community education by presenting messages and images that are in line with the above recommendations.

It is important to share this information without frightening the parents; however, it is vital for them to understand the risks of an unsafe sleep space.  Taking precautionary measures is the best way to keep infants safe without spending a ton of money on home devices.


 Rachael Herman is a professional writer with an extensive background in medical writing, research, and language development. Her hobbies include hiking in the Rockies, cooking, and reading.

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FAQ’s about Sleep Apnea

Sleep Apnea

Common Questions and Answers About Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a disorder characterized by brief pauses in breathing during sleep. The pauses cause a partial arousal from sleep and prevent a good night’s rest.

Whether you have just been diagnosed with sleep apnea or think your partner may have the condition, you probably have some questions. Learning more about sleep apnea and how it’s treated will help you manage the condition, decrease complications and improve your quality of sleep. Below are some common questions and answers to help you understand more about sleep apnea.

  1. What causes sleep apnea?

    Sleep apnea can occur if your airway becomes obstructed while you’re sleeping. In some cases, the tongue and throat muscles relax and block the windpipe. Structural issues, such as a large tongue or tonsils can increase your risk of developing the condition. People who are overweight are also at an increased risk of sleep apnea.

    Snoring Mouth Picture
    Snoring Mouth Picture
  1. What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?

    One of the main symptoms of sleep apnea is snoring. Although it’s important to understand, not all people who snore have sleep apnea. A bed partner may also notice your breathing periodically stops for brief periods of time through the night. Since people with sleep apnea have disrupted sleep, they often have excessive daytime sleepiness and may have morning headaches.

  1. How do I know for sure If I have sleep apnea?

    The best way to know for sure whether you have sleep apnea is to have a sleep study called a polysomnogram. During the study, a sleep technologist will monitor you while you sleep. When you arrive for your study, the tech hooks you up to various equipment, which monitors your brain activity, blood oxygen levels, heart rate and breathing patterns while you sleep. The results of the study help your doctor make an accurate diagnosis.

    sleep study data
    sleep study data
  1. How long does a sleep study take?

    Although it can vary, your sleep study will usually take between nine and ten hours from start to finish. Once you arrive at the sleep center, you’ll spend a short time talking to the tech who will explain the procedure. It also takes about 45 minutes to attach monitors and equipment used in the study. After that, many sleep studies require about six hours of recording time while you sleep.

  1. What negative effects can sleep apnea cause?

    Sleep apnea decreases your quality of sleep, which can have a cumulative effect. Sleep deprivation can have several consequences including memory problems, trouble concentrating and mood disturbances. It can also increase your chances of having an accident while driving.

  1. Are there complications?

    Sleep apnea can cause several health complications. When your breathing stops, the oxygen level in your blood can drop. This drop can strain your cardiovascular system making your heart work harder. People with sleep apnea have a higher risk of developing high blood pressure, having irregular heartbeats and diabetes. Untreated sleep apnea is associated with an increased risk of heart attacks and stroke.

  1. How is sleep apnea treated?

    Fortunately, sleep apnea can usually be successfully treated. The most common treatment is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). CPAP is delivered through a mask attached to a small CPAP machine that provides the air pressure. The pressur

    cpap bipap
    cpap bipap

    e keeps the airway open and prevents cessation of breathing during sleep. Although CPAP is very effective at treating sleep apnea, other options are also available including dental devices and surgery. Weight loss may be effective if overweight.

  2. Is CPAP hard to sleep with?

    CPAP machines for home use are small. They are often smaller than a shoebox. You’ll need to wear a small mask over your nose, which is connected to tubing and the machine. Most people are able to tolerate CPAP and get used to wearing it after a few nights. When you’re first adjusting to CPAP, keep the health benefits in mind, which may help you stick with it. If after a few weeks, you’re still having trouble using your CPAP, talk with your sleep specialist. Your doctor may be able to adjust the pressure on the machine or suggest different masks, so you’re more comfortable.


Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Treating Sleep Apnea.  Retrieved October 2016.

Harvard University. What Happened During OSA.   Retrieved October 2016.

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. What is Sleep Apnea. Retrieved October 2016.

Author: MaryAnn DePietro, CRT is a medical writer and licensed respiratory therapist with over a decade of clinical experience, MaryAnn DePietro has been published in magazines, newspapers and on health websites. She earned degrees in both respiratory therapy and rehabilitation.
Summary: Common questions answered about sleep apnea.

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Sleep Deprivation in Preschoolers Leads to Increased Appetite

child sleep deprivation and hunger

A new study out of the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Michigan reported that preschoolers who missed their naps and stayed up later at night were more likely to gain weight due to increased sugar and carbohydrate intake.  A paper on the study was published in the Journal of Sleep Research.

In this study, researchers deprived preschoolers their regular afternoon nap and kept them awake two hours after their normal bedtime, accounting for a total of three hours’ sleep loss.  The children were awakened at their regular time the next morning.

Monique LeBourgeois, lead author of the study, noted that on the day of the sleep loss, the children took in about 20% more calories than they normally would, including 26% more carbohydrates and 25% more sugars.  On the next day, “recovery day,” the children could sleep as much as they wanted.  They all returned to their normal sugar and carbohydrate consumption levels; however, they still had 23% more fat and 14% more calories than usual.

This study included a loss of nap and staying up late, which accurately mimics the type of sleep loss that would happen in the real world.  The National Sleep Foundation notes that approximately 30% of preschool aged children are sleep deprived.

It was notable that dietary intake was increased both the day of sleep loss and the day after.  This may give insight into how sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain and childhood obesity.

Even with prevention measures for obesity over the last decade, the problem of childhood obesity continues to rise to epidemic levels.  About 23% of children in the U.S. under the age of 5 are overweight or obese, according to a 2014 study.  Obese and overweight children are at higher risk of chronic illnesses later in life such as depression, low self-esteem, diabetes, and heart disease.  Overweight children are four times more likely to suffer from obesity as an adult.

Dr. LeBourgeois notes that this study was beneficial because there was no control of the dietary intake.  Parents did not restrict or enforce any of their child’s food and drink intake.  The parents fed the children the same foods they would eat on any given day.

Additionally, researchers reviewed each child individually based on study conditions like when sleep was restricted, when it was recovered, and when it was optimized.  This gave scientists control over how the children differed in their eating habits, preferences, and sleep routines.

Five girls and five boys participated in the study.  Each of the children were given small sensors on their wrists to monitor activity, time in bed, sleep quality, and sleep duration.  Parents were asked to keep track of all food and drinks their child took, including brands, quantities, and portions using measures in grams, teaspoons, and cups.  All ingredients, including spices, were logged for all homemade dishes, including cooking methods and quantities.

This study is the first of its kind to measure the effect sleep has on food consumption in preschool aged kids.  Results of this study are consistent with other studies that have been done on teens and adults.

Follow-up studies using larger samples to confirm these findings are in line to start.  These studies will be experimental and control food and beverage intake, as well as objectively measure energy levels in children.


Rachael Herman is a professional writer with an extensive background in medical writing, research, and language development. Her hobbies include hiking in the Rockies, cooking, and reading.

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