By Lead writer: Tania Haas
Updated: July 21, 2016

Can poor sleep boost your risk of developing diabetes? Maybe. A number of studies have linked poor sleep with a higher risk of diabetes, but researchers are still sorting out if one can cause the other or they're linked for some other reason.

Either way, getting better sleep is probably a good idea if you're at risk for diabetes (or even if you're not).

"It's not proven, but basic science shows that lack of sleep can lead to high blood pressure and increased weight, and these alone are risk factors for diabetes development," said Ronald Kramer, MD, the medical director of the Colorado Neurological Institute's Sleep Disorders Center in Englewood, Colo.

Some studies have suggested that sleep-deprived people start eating more calories, "so there's also that linkage in terms of increased weight," he says.

Disturbed sleep may promote insulin resistance

However, sleep disturbances may actually disrupt insulin regulation too. In a 2007 study, Esra Tasali, MD, of the University of Chicago, and colleagues prevented nine young men from entering a deep stage of sleep (known as slow-wave sleep), which is thought to be associated with hormonal changes that affect glucose.

For three nights the researchers used sounds, such as simulated knocks on a door, or body shakes to keep the men from getting slow-wave sleep while still not waking them up.

The subjects had a 25% drop in their insulin sensitivity (a loss of insulin sensitivity is a hallmark of type 2 diabetes). The researchers note that slow-wave sleep tends to decline with age and in the obese—two factors that are also linked to a greater risk of type 2 diabetes.

Less sleep linked to higher type 2 diabetes risk

Another 2007 study suggested that short sleep duration is associated with type 2 diabetes. James Gangwisch, PhD, of Columbia University in New York City and colleagues analyzed data from almost 9,000 subjects who participated in a survey between 1982 and 1992.

People who slept five or fewer hours a night or nine or more hours a night were more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than those who said they slept seven or eight hours a night (this type of study can't definitively prove one caused the other, it only shows that they appear to be causally related).

The studies show a surprisingly consistent correlation between lack of sleep and diabetes risk, according to Dr. Kramer, a regional spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, who was not involved in either study.

"In current medical science, it appears that chronic sleep deprivation is a pro-inflammatory state that may contribute to the hardening of the arteries, as evidenced by increased stress hormones and increased sugar levels in the body," he said.

For help getting a better night's sleep, check out these tips.