Researchers have known that a lack of quality sleep can increase a person’s risk of diabetes. What has remained a mystery, however, is why.
Now, new findings from a team of sleep scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, are closer to an answer. The researchers have uncovered a potential mechanism in humans that explains how and why deep-sleep brain waves at night are able to regulate the body’s sensitivity to insulin, which in turn improves blood sugar control the next day.
“These synchronized brain waves act like a finger that flicks the first domino to start an associated chain reaction from the brain, down to the heart, and then out to alter the body’s regulation of blood sugar,” said Matthew Walker, a UC Berkeley professor of neuroscience and psychology and senior author of the new study. “In particular, the combination of two brain waves, called sleep spindles and slow waves, predict an increase in the body’s sensitivity to the hormone called insulin, which consequentially and beneficially lowers blood glucose levels.”
The researchers say this is an exciting advance because sleep is a modifiable lifestyle factor that could now be used as part of a therapeutic and painless adjunct treatment for those with high blood sugar or Type 2 diabetes.