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Controlling weight and diabetes requires real rest (5/9/11)

May 9, 2011

It’s No Fun to Fight the System

“I’m sleeping less than I ever have and that’s gonna make me gain weight?  You’re kidding!  I have to use more energy to stay awake, so how does that cause weight gain?”

I hear similar stories most days.  It’s time for people to look at how their bodies actually work – as a system, not one piece at a time.  Food, activity, and rest are deeply interrelated – physiologically, neurologically and endocrinologically.

So let’s turn to one part of those relationships. Just getting inadequate sleep can lead to weight gain, insulin resistance and poor diabetic control.

The Chicago Experience

Ever since Professor Eve van Cauter at the University of Chicago found that insulin resistance increased when people experienced partial sleep deprivation researchers grasped the implications:  More insulin resistance, more fat in the abdomen.  More insulin resistance, greater problems with cardiovascular disease.  More insulin resistance, a greater likelihood of diabetes.

Sleep researchers then noticed that Americans were sleeping less and less, and getting weightier and weightier.  Was there a connection?

Yes.  Data started pouring out internationally – the less people slept, the more they gained weight.  Go below six hours a night and lots of people appeared to gain weight, sometimes quickly.

So the staying up means more energy use argument doesn’t fly.  If you don’t give your body enough time to rest so it can properly rebuild itself, lots of stuff stops working.  The end results go well beyond greater weight gain – memory suffers, learning suffers, heart and blood vessels suffer.

So food and rest are now seen as interrelated.  Genetic works shows similar metabolic pathways operating in each – as in fruit flies studied last year at NYU.  Give the poor fellows “food” that tastes fine but has no nutritional value, and they stop sleeping – as well as stop acting like normal flies.

But what about diabetics themselves?  What about their quality of rest?

Diabetic Sleep

The group at the University of Chicago is doing the obvious follow-up experiments.  Now they’ve taken 40 diabetics, checking their sleep and insulin levels carefully for six days.

What happens?  Diabetics who slept had 23% higher glucose levels, on average.  They also needed 48% more insulin to get glucose into their cells.

In other words, their diabetes was considerably worse.

Is there a yin-yang phenomenon here?  Certainly.  If diabetics sleep less, their glucose control is worse.  If their levels are less stable, their deranged glucose metabolism pushes towards weight gain and further atherosclerosis.  Then their tendency to develop sleep disorders, like sleep apnea, gets worse.  That further worsens rest-regeneration, which leads to less control of their diabetes…

Feedback loops occur all over nature, and double, triple, and quadruple feedback loops are common throughout human physiology.  You don’t want those feedback loops going in the wrong direction.

In economics, such negative feedback loops lead to market crashes and depressions.  In ecology, it leads to starvation and the death of species. Environmentally it leads to greater volatility and climate change.

With negative feedback loops, the nature of nature begins to work against you – with bad results.

Bottom Line

Diabetes is now slated to affect one-third of Americans.  This will not only create great personal and family misery, but also promises to further bankrupt our fragile, semi-functioning medical system.

It’s clear that diabetes, and a lot of other diseases, can be prevented in many people through how they live.  People look to diet as one critical part of the equation. Food is information, as well as fuel and materials.  Serve it up right, even  through the simple expedient of eating whole foods, and the body gets far more of what it needs.

But food is only part of the story.  Humans do much better when they move around.  Sitting itself, at more than six hours a day, is a risk factor for increased death.

How many people do you know who don’t sit at least six hours a day?

Moving is what human bodies are made to do.  Fortunately, the simplest, most ordinary activities, like walking, can prove profoundly healthy.

One simple way to control weight is thus to walk after meals.

Then we come to rest.  Rest is a much greater issue than sleep, but insufficient sleep remains a major public health hazard.

Sleep less, weigh more.  Sleep less, more diabetes.  And if you’re diabetic, you’ll have less glucose control.


It’s clear that diets don’t work for most people; than many don’t lose weight when exercising, and grow discouraged; that most of the population has problems with sufficient rest.

Yet properly add these components together, one by one, and something lovely happens – the system starts to work.

That’s what connections are about – food, activity, and rest are basic components of life. Put them together and you can make people more productive and a great deal healthier. Which could save us a lot of money.

And a lot of lives.
Rest, sleep, Sarasota Sleep Doctor, well-being, regeneration, longevity, body clocks, insomnia, sleep disorders, the rest doctor, matthew edlund, the power of rest, the body clock, psychology today, huffington post, redbook, longboat key news

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