(NaturalNews) One of the key but often underestimated elements of a healthy lifestyle is a sufficient amount of quality sleep. A recent piece of research presented at the American Heart Association's 49th Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention has added to the wisdom of this age-old belief, having found that persons who get less than 6 hours of sleep each night have a higher risk of developing pre-diabetes, a condition characterized by impaired fasting glucose preceding an actual diagnosis of diabetes.
About Pre-diabetes and Diabetes
According to the American Diabetes Association, before the onset of type 2 diabetes, people "almost always have pre-diabetes". Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of the disease which most commonly afflicts middle-aged adults; pre-diabetes is a condition whereby a person's levels of blood glucose are elevated above normal, but not quite high enough to be considered a case of full-blown diabetes. Recent research suggests that long-term adverse effects on the body, in particular to the cardiovascular and circulatory system, could already be underway during pre-diabetes.
The association estimates that there are about 57 million people in the United States with pre-diabetes - a staggering number indeed. And the situation is worsening, with more young people and adolescents developing pre-diabetes and diabetes.
Details of Study
The study had been funded by the National Institutes of Health, and the study team had looked at the sleep and blood glucose data of 1,455 persons who were part of the Western New York Health Study. Sleep duration was self-reported, with the subjects categorized into long-sleepers (>8 hours per night), mid-sleepers (6 to 8 hours), and short-sleepers (<6 hours) based on their sleep duration during the work week.
The researchers identified 91 study subjects whose levels of fasting blood glucose had risen from less than 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) during baseline assessments (1996 to 2001) to between 100 mg/dL and 125 mg/dL when followed up on about 6 years later (2003 to 2004). These persons were compared with 273 persons whose blood glucose levels had remained stable during the period, with the two groups being matched for gender, ethnicity and year of commencing the study.
Findings of Study
After factors such as body mass index, age, heart rate, high blood pressure, depression symptoms, glucose and insulin concentrations, as well as diabetes family history were accounted for, the study team discovered that short-sleepers had a significantly heightened risk of having impaired fasting glucose, a staggering 4.56 times, or a 356% increase, that of mid-sleepers. Long-sleepers, on the other hand, showed no such effect.
"This study supports growing evidence of the association of inadequate sleep with adverse health issues. Sleep should be assessed in the clinical setting as part of well-care visits throughout the life cycle," said Lisa Rafalson, PhD, a research assistant professor at the University at Buffalo in New York and the leader of the study.
According to Rafalson, while previous research suggests that some genes may have a small effect on diabetes risk, "there is no known genetic predisposition to sleep disturbances that could explain our study's results." She also said that "it is more likely that pathways involving hormones and the nervous system are involved in the impaired-sleep / fasting glucose association."
Rafalson hopes that more studies will be forthcoming for this subject. "Our findings will hopefully spur additional research into this very complex area of sleep and illness," she said.
In a position statement jointly issued by the American Diabetes Association and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, titled "Prevention or Delay of Type 2 Diabetes", it was noted that there was strong epidemiological evidence that undertaking physical activity and maintaining healthy weight are beneficial for the prevention of diabetes. Further, they also improve cardiovascular wellbeing and one's quality of life.
And these steps should be the priority for preventing or delaying the disease, taking precedence over pharmaceutical or medical interventions. As rightly put forth by the statement, "lifestyle modification should be the first choice to prevent or delay diabetes." It did not recommend the use of diabetes drug medications to delay the onset of the condition, due to lack of evidence of their usefulness and their potential long-term adverse effects.
The agencies called for health care policymakers to "aggressively explore low-cost ways to promote physical activity and weight loss", especially in overweight or sedentary persons, making such recommendations "at every opportunity." They also asked for public messages, health professionals and heath care systems to encourage such lifestyle changes. The truth, however, is that such habits are a matter of personal choice, and no amount of external encouragement or coercion is going to work if an individual is not self motivated.
Other risk factors which should be watched out for and eradicated include high blood pressure and cigarette smoking.
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