Insulin resistance is not diabetes, but it is often a precursor. The bodies of insulin resistant people do not properly use insulin—it’s produced normally in the pancreas, but it’s not accepted by cells, which then cannot easily use glucose for energy. There are no noticeable symptoms in most cases, but it means unusually high blood sugar and can lead to diabetes.
Several factors can contribute to the body becoming resistant to insulin. There seems to be a genetic component that makes people prone to the condition. Obese people frequently show signs of insulin resistance on blood glucose tests. In addition, steroid use and stress can affect the body’s ability to use the insulin it produces.
Now recent research has added sleep deprivation to the list, at least in teenagers. The study of high school students found that they averaged 6.4 hours of sleep per night—almost three hours less than the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends for people in that age group. However, just one additional hour of sleep per night boosts insulin use nine percent, regardless of weight and family history of diabetes.
Even in adults, poor sleep habits seem to affect blood sugar. In a 2010 study, one sleepless night can harm the ability of otherwise healthy adults to correctly use insulin. Chronic sleeplessness is a worse problem, compounded by the lethargy that can arise due to blood sugar problems. The researchers speculated that rises in type 2 diabetes are linked to poor sleep.
So it’s important to get enough sleep, but how? One way is to set a bedtime and stick to it. Make sure your nighttime routine is finished, electronic devices are down for the night, lights are out, and everything you need to do before you go to bed is done by a certain time. Ideally, this time should be early enough that you wake up well-rested—too often, people fall into a cycle of not getting enough sleep, then relying on caffeine, then staying up late.
There are other things you can also do to help fight insulin resistance. Be sure to get enough exercise and stay physically active. Reduce steroid use as much as you safely can. Watch your carbohydrate intake, with a focus not on more or less but on keeping carbohydrate levels relatively steady. Don’t skip or delay meals. Sleep, maintaining healthy activity levels, and watching what you eat can help keep you healthy.