Lack of sleep can elevate levels of free fatty acids in the blood, accompanied by temporary pre-diabetic conditions in healthy young men, according to new research.
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The researchers found that after three nights of getting only four hours of sleep, blood levels of fatty acids, which usually peak and then recede overnight, remained elevated from about 4 a.m. to 9 a.m. As long as fatty acid levels remained high, the ability of insulin to regulate blood sugars was reduced.
Cutting back on sleep prolonged nighttime growth hormone secretion and led to an increase in noradrenaline in the blood, both of which contributed to the increase in fatty acid levels.
Although glucose levels were unchanged, the ability of available insulin to regulate blood glucose levels decreased by about 23 percent after a short sleep, "suggesting," the authors note, "an insulin-resistant state."
"This study opens the door to several intriguing questions," according to a Commentary in the journal by sleep specialists Jonathan Jun, MD, and Vsevolod Polotsky, MD, PhD, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Could variations in individual responses to short sleep explain susceptibility to metabolic consequences? Could dysregulation of fatty acid metabolism represent a common pathway linking various sleep disorders to metabolic syndrome? And why don't clinicians routinely ask their patients about sleep?