Researchers unearthed that shortening sleep by just 90 minutes for six weeks increased insulin resistance (when your body’s cells don’t respond properly to the insulin that your body makes or that you inject as a medication) in women who are otherwise used to getting adequate sleep.
This effect was even greater in postmenopausal women, of which the average age for in the UK is 52.
The findings are the first to suggest that a mild sleep deficit causes changes in the body that raise the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in women, whose cardiometabolic health (spanning conditions like diabetes, stroke, and heart attack) may be more impacted by poor sleep than men's.
"Throughout their lifespan, women face many changes in their sleep habits due to childbearing, child-rearing, and menopause. And more women than men have the perception they aren’t getting enough sleep," says professor Marie-Pierre St-Onge from Columbia University.
"Over a longer period of time, ongoing stress on insulin-producing cells could cause them to fail, eventually leading to type 2 diabetes.
Professor St-Onge adds: "The fact that we saw these results independent of any changes in body fat, which is a known risk factor for type 2 diabetes, speaks to the impact of mild sleep reduction on insulin-producing cells and metabolism.
"The bottom line is that getting adequate sleep each night may lead to better blood sugar control and reduced risk for type 2 diabetes, especially among postmenopausal women."
The researchers studied 38 healthy women, including 11 postmenopausal women, who routinely slept at least seven hours each night. Participants were then required to shorten their night's sleep to around six hours for six weeks (on average adults need seven-nine hours a night).
They were monitored with wearable devices and the researchers measured their insulin (which helps you manage your blood sugar levels), glucose (the blood sugar), and body fat.
After the six weeks the results – published in the journal Diabetes Care – showed fasting insulin levels were increased by more than 12% overall and by more than 15% among premenopausal women.
Insulin resistance increased by nearly 15% overall and by more than 20% among premenopausal women.
Other studies have suggested that those with varying sleep patterns are also at higher risk of developing diabetes, which the team intends to look further into.
While disturbed sleep may be associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes (whether you're not getting enough or sleeping for too long), there are things you can do improve your slumber. See our useful guide on 10 expert-approved ways to sleep better.
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