PrintSleepy Cells May Cause a Metabolic Meltdown

New study shows lack of sleep can cause metabolic dysfunction.

After a night of tossing and turning, you wake up with dark circles under your eyes and can hardly muster up the strength to make it out of bed. Unfortunately, lack of quality sleep does more harm than just make you feel (and look) like a zombie.

Recently, scientists have been able to make a connection between inadequate sleep and increased risk of metabolic disturbances, including insulin resistance, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. A new study published in Annals of Internal Medicine takes a closer look at how lack of shut-eye can alter your metabolism and ultimately lead to unwanted weight gain and disease.

The study involved seven healthy, lean participants aged 18 to 30 years. The subjects went through two experimental sleep conditions. First they had four consecutive nights of 8.5 hours of normal sleep. Then the subjects had four consecutive nights of 4.5 hours of restricted sleep. After each of the sleep conditions, abdominal subcutaneous fat tissue was sampled and the fat cells were examined for insulin sensitivity (a measure of how well cells respond to increased glucose or energy from food). The result? A 30 percent reduction in insulin sensitivity in sleep-deprived cells.

While you sleep, your cells use insulin to break down food and provide fuel for your body to restore, and recover. When you do not get enough adequate sleep, your fat cells become “too tired” and do not use insulin efficiently. This leads to the following health concerns:

  • A decrease in insulin sensitivity can reduce cognitive ability and leave you feeling fatigued from lack of energy regulation.
  • Your fat cells become less efficient at regulating the storage and circulation of fatty acids, allowing them to leach out into the blood stream. In other words, your fat cells become “lazy” and do not perform their vital role. This can lead to serious health complications over time and increase your risk for cardiovascular disease.
  • Insulin resistance is a precursor to diabetes, an inability to regulate glucose which is associated with a multitude of health complications including obesity.

With demanding school schedules, work deadlines, and hectic lifestyles, four to five hours of sleep may be a common occurrence for many people. The participants in this study only experienced sleep deprivation for four nights, and that was enough to significantly impact their fat cell’s response to insulin.  We can only imagine the effect chronic sleep deprivation could have on insulin sensitivity and overall health.

As much as this study exposes about the relationship between sleep and metabolism, the results open up a tidal wave of new questions. What signals from sleep loss affect the fat cell? Are other types of cells affected by sleep deprivation in the same way? What and how rapidly can this lead to disease?

As one of the researchers, Matthew Brady, Ph.D., pondered in a press release, “…if we can deprive healthy people of sleep and make them worse, can we take sick people, such as those with a combination of sleep apnea, obesity and diabetes, and improve their sleep and make them better?”

Although there certainly are unknowns in this field of study, few would argue against the health benefits associated with adequate sleep. Keep your health a priority (and avoid looking like a zombie) with Isagenix Sleep Support & Renewal, formulated to help you get quality, restful sleep.


Broussard JL, Ehrmann DA, Van CE, Tasali E, Brady MJ. Impaired insulin signaling in human adipocytes after experimental sleep restriction: a randomized, crossover study. Ann Intern Med 2012;157:549-57.