Lack of sleep can raise type 2 diabetes risk for healthy eaters

A man has just woken up in a domestic environment, either a living room or a bedroom. He is cozy in duvets and pillows. He rubs his eyes and face sleepily as he comes to sleep.
Lack of sleep can raise type 2 diabetes risk among healthy people. (Getty Images)

Sleep, or lack of it, could be a key factor in the development of type 2 diabetes even for healthy eaters, a new study has found.

Researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden found that adults who get just three to five hours of sleep per night are more likely to develop the condition than those who rest for longer.

They added that healthy eating is not enough to make up for the impact of chronic sleep deprivation.

To find these results, researchers analysed information from the UK Biobank, where nearly 500,000 UK members have been genetically mapped and questioned over the course of a decade.

While healthy eating was found to lower the risk of the disease, it found that a sleep duration of between three and five hours was linked to a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes for people following any diet.

"I generally recommend prioritising sleep, although I understand it’s not always possible, especially as a parent of four teenagers," lead author Professor Christian Benedict said.

"Our results are the first to question whether a healthy diet can compensate for lack of sleep in terms of the risk of type 2 diabetes. They should not cause concern, but instead be seen as a reminder that sleep plays an important role in health."

In the UK, approximately 4.3 million people are living with diabetes – with Diabetes UK estimating that type 2 diabetes makes up 90% of this cohort.

Healthy eating. Plate with vegan or vegetarian food. Healthy plant based diet. Healthy dinner. Buddha bowl with fresh vegetables. High quality photo
A healthy diet alone is not enough to counteract lack of sleep. (Getty Images)

A recent report from YouGov found that most Brits (35%) get an average of seven hours of sleep per night, while 20% get eight hours and 22% get six.

It also revealed that nearly one in 10 of us (9%) get just five hours of sleep per night, while 3% get four hours, and 1% get three hours or less.

How to get more sleep

The NHS recommends that adults get between seven to nine hours of sleep per night, so how can you make sure you’re getting enough kip?

Firstly, the health service recommends having a good routine before bed – or better sleep hygiene. This includes having a set time where you go to bed each day, and having a way to wind down and relax (that ideally isn’t mindlessly scrolling on your phone).

It adds that you should try to avoid going on your phone, computer or tablet at least one hour before bed as the blue light can keep your body from resting, which makes it harder to sleep when the time comes. Instead try reading, listening to soft music or a calming podcast, or even sleep meditation.

Creating a calming sleep environment can help too – so make sure your room is as quiet, dark, and cool as possible.

Diet and exercise can also help you sleep better, as exercising uses up excess energy and makes our body more tired, while eating a balanced diet can also lead to better rest.

In particular, avoid stimulants like coffee or alcohol before bed as this can keep you awake, and avoid having a large meal too close to bedtime too as you need time to digest your food before you sleep.

If you suffer from insomnia or regularly don’t get enough sleep, make an appointment with your GP.

Additional reporting by SWNS.

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