Sleep researchers are increasingly finding how the mechanisms that control the sleep/wake cycle are related to other important functions in the body. Although not completely conclusive, University of Chicago researchers have found a connection between chronic sleep loss and basic metabolic functions like processing and storing carbohydrates and also hormone regulation and secretion. These findings were reported in The Lancet, a highly respected, peer-reviewed medical research journal.

“Striking changes in glucose tolerance and endocrine function – changes that resembled the effects of advanced age or the early stages of diabetes” – were found in a group of young healthy males after less than one week of sleep loss. “We suspect that chronic sleep loss may not only hasten the onset but could increase the severity of age-related ailments such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity and memory loss, reported Dr. Eve Van Cauter, Research Professor of Medicine, who directed the study. When tested during the peak of their sleep deprivation, subjects in the study took 40 percent longer to regulate their blood-sugar levels, resembling insulin resistance, the early stage of Type -2 diabetes.

In addition to blood sugar, sleep deprivation slowed the production of thyroid-stimulating hormone and increased cortisol levels, the latter resembling age-related health problems of insulin resistance and memory impairment. This research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the MacArthur Foundation.

What does this mean for each of us who is unable to sleep? It means that the consequences of chronic poor sleep may underlie more serious health-related problems. It establishes the connection between sleep and weight as well as a potential connection between sleep and later memory impairment. More importantly, it emphasizes for each of us the need to pay attention to sleep as a crucial variable in our health. Most of these changes in the body occur slowly and out of sight of our awareness. They may not show up on blood tests or a physical examination until they have progressed to nearly a disease state. It cautions us to take sleep seriously and learn and do what we can to establish a peaceful, restorative sleep pattern and points to the possible benefits of better sleep quality for adults. And it encourages us to get help from sleep experts who can show us the pathway to normal, sufficient sleep.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Marcia Lindsey is a sleep coach/psychologist who trains individuals and groups to change the mental and physical roadblocks getting in the way of good sleep. To get your 10 sleep tips go to