Study: Sleep does more for health than just rest your brain

A new study finds sleep directly impacts health and disease prevention.
A new study finds sleep directly impacts health and disease prevention.
Daniel Foster / Filterbrew

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Los Angeles researchers have found evidence that sleep may be a lot more important in disease prevention than previously believed.

The study published in the Oct. 16 edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine found evidence that sleep deprivation causes fat tissue in our bodies to go through cellular changes that make it behave more like the tissue found in an obese or diabetic person.

"This is the first evidence of a molecular link between short sleep and insulin resistance," says lead researcher Josiane Broussard with Cedars Sinai's Diabetes and Obesity Research Institute. "It's the first time we’ve seen it at the cellular level in humans."

For the study, researchers compared tissue samples from a seven healthy adults after they got 8.5 hours sleep for four consecutive nights, and again after they got only 4.5 hours sleep (14 hours of cumulative sleep loss), also for four consecutive nights.

After just four nights of sleep restriction, the sleep-deprived participants’ tissue was nearly 30 percent less sensitive to insulin - that's about equal to that observed in tissue samples from diabetic and obese patients.

While that helps explain why lack of sleep results in weight gain and Type 2 diabetes, the tissue changes also suggest that sleep plays a much bigger role in overall health and disease prevention.

"This really shows that sleep is important for all cell types and all tissue in the body," says Broussard. She predicts that more study in the area will indicate that adequate sleep plays a key role in a broader range of disease prevention, including reduced cancer risk.

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