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Anti-Aging and Sleep


SOURCE: The Lancet October 23, 1999;354:1435-1439.

Regularly catching only a few hours of sleep can hinder metabolism and hormone production in a way that is similar to the effects of aging and the early stages of diabetes. Chronic sleep loss may speed the onset or increase the severity of age-related conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and memory loss. The researchers showed that just one week of sleep deprivation altered subjects hormone levels and their capacity to metabolize carbohydrates. People who trade sleep for work or play may get used to it and feel less fatigued.

During sleep-deprivation, the researchers found, the men's blood sugar levels took 40% longer to drop following a high-carbohydrate meal, compared with the sleep-recovery period. Their ability to secrete and respond to the hormone insulin, which helps regulate blood sugar, dropped by 30%. These changes echo the effects of insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes. In addition, the sleep-deprived men had higher nighttime concentrations of the hormone cortisol, which also helps regulate blood sugar, and lower levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone. These raised cortisol levels mimic levels that are often seen in older people, and may be involved in age-related insulin resistance and memory loss.

Sleep debts are sort of like stress. Most sleep-deprivation research has focused on what it does to the brain, but it is likely that sleep has many functions. In the study, subjects' blood sugar and hormone concentrations were restored after the sleep-recovery period. Earlier research has shown that in developed countries, the average night's sleep has grown shorter since the beginning of the century, from 9 hours to 7.5 hours. Many people give up sleep to make room for work and leisure. An adequate amount of sleep is as important as an adequate amount of exercise.

SOURCE: The Lancet October 23, 1999;354:1435-1439.



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