UNT study shows lack of sleep contributes to higher glucose levels in college students

Wednesday, August 17, 2016 - 08:48

DENTON (UNT), Texas -- The start of college or university life often means the start of staying up later and later each night for many students who probably don't realize how lack of sleep could impact their health. But that can happen, according to a study from students in the University of North Texas' Sleep Health Research Laboratory that focused on both college students who skimp on sleep by choice and students with insomnia.

The research results show that students who voluntarily slept fewer hours over a week's time had higher serum glucose levels than other college students, putting them at risk for possible medical problems.

Brett Messman and Bella Scott, undergraduate students in psychology, evaluated the glucose levels of 146 UNT students who kept sleep logs. Although all of the students were determined to be healthy after receiving physical examinations from UNT's Student Health and Wellness Center, half had chronic insomnia, defined as difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep several nights a week for at least three months. The students with insomnia were identified through semi-structured clinical interviews in the Insomnia Research Laboratory.

All of the students had their blood drawn before keeping the sleep logs for a week. The students then received second blood draws. Messman and Scott analyzed the total amount of time students reported sleeping and the serum glucose levels for both blood samples.

The total amount of sleep time, as determined by the students' logs, was associated with glucose levels only in those students who did not have insomnia, with fewer hours of sleep leading to higher levels. Students with insomnia, however, did not have higher levels with fewer hours of sleep.

The researchers say behavior may explain the difference.

"When you have insomnia, you want to sleep, but can't. So those with insomnia may have been spending their nights trying to fall asleep instead of doing late night activities," Messman said.

And students who voluntarily skip sleep may be eating while they're awake, with the late night snacking contributing to increased blood sugar, he says.

Over time, higher glucose levels can contribute to heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, bad cholesterol and metabolic syndrome, which leads to unhealthy weight gain. Messman and Scott say that while much research has examined metabolic problems and sleep disorders in adults, no research had focused on college students, including college students with insomnia.

Students, Scott says, "need to consider sleep as a medical issue."

"Getting good sleep is important. All-nighters aren't worth it. Establish good sleep behaviors, including no laptops in bed," she says. "Insomnia is often not seen as a concern for college students because sleeping is an undervalued part of daily life to them. But lack of sleep causes problems in the long run."

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108