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Get your zzz's to help avoid diabetes

(CNN) -- Getting too little sleep may increase the risk of developing diabetes, researchers at the American Diabetes Association conference reported Monday.

The team from the University of Chicago said sleep deprivation could lead to insulin resistance, a condition that is a risk factor for diabetes.

"When you chronically get inadequate sleep, you are not merely developing a sleep debt, but also disrupting other body functions," said researcher Bryce Mander in a statement.

Sleep experts agreed.

"Disruptions in sleep can have profound effects on a number of endocrine problems and insulin resistance could be a pre-diabetic situation that could affect many, many people who are sleep-deprived in our society," said Dr. Richard Waldhorn of the Georgetown Sleep Disorders Center.

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The Chicago researchers studied 27 healthy, non-obese adults ages 23-42. Fourteen of them were "normal" sleepers averaging nearly eight hours a night. Thirteen were "chronic short sleepers" who got less than five and one-half hours of sleep a night.

On the final day of the eight-day study, both groups took an intravenous glucose tolerance test. The researchers found that insulin sensitivity was 40 percent lower among "short sleepers."

"Our research demonstrates that chronic sleep curtailment in otherwise healthy young adults impairs the ability of insulin to do its job properly," said Mander.

The Chicago researchers have also linked failing insulin sensitivity to metabolic syndrome - a set of conditions that includes problems such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity.

"We know that certain patients with sleep disorders are obese and have a difficult time losing weight -- another sign of abnormalities in insulin metabolism," added Waldhorn.

The researchers say more study is needed to fully understand the relationship between sleep and insulin sensitivity. But they warn that the prevalent "work more, sleep less" mentality could help fuel the rise in diabetes in the United States.

CNN Medical Correspondent Rea Blakey contributed to this report.

• American Diabetes Association
• Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation

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