Lack of Deep Sleep May Up Diabetes Risk

"In an ideal world, you'd like to follow people with chronic sleep problems," says Abrahamson. But, he adds, "That's a difficult one to do."

This is because forcibly creating chronic sleep problems in humans is considered inhumane.

But as the number of people with diabetes grows, there will likely be pressure to learn more about the link between sleep problems and diabetes. Abrahamson says he believes sleep disorders in diabetics are "far more common than we previously imagined."

The Age Factor

We may also be working against the clock. How long a person goes into slow-wave sleep naturally dwindles with age, according to Michael Perlis, professor of psychiatry and neurosciences at the University of Rochester in Rochester, N.Y.

As children, he says, our slow-wave sleep may have accounted for up to 20 percent of our nights. But as adults, this portion may be only up to 10 percent -- and as little as 5 percent. The authors of the study believe that lack of slow-wave sleep plays a part in a heightened risk for developing type 2 diabetes as we age.

Perlis says research has already found other health benefits from slow-wave sleep, such as improved brain and immune function. It may also play a part in the release of growth hormone, which helps with bone elongation in children and skin elasticity in adults.

"That's why you see people in California shooting up growth hormone," says Perlis.

But even though good sleep gets harder to come by as we get older, Perlis says, there are natural ways to ensure you get as much slow-wave sleep as you can for your age.

"Though it's counterintuitive, less sleep may be better," says Perlis. "The longer you sleep, the shallower it is."

So frequent catnaps are out, getting good exercise and full night's sleep is in.

"Sleep is 30 percent of our meager lives," says Perlis. "I sure hope it's doing something more than help us get through the night."

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