Getting too little sleep alters the balance of bacteria in the gut, a change that’s linked to certain metabolic conditions, including obesity and type 2 diabetes, new research shows.
For the study, European researchers limited the sleep of nine healthy men who were a normal weight to examine how sleep loss affects the number of types of bacteria in the gut.
For two days in a row, the men slept only four hours a night. The study showed the diversity of gut bacteria didn’t change but sleep loss did alter the balance of the existing groups of bacteria.
The study results were published recently in the journal Molecular Metabolism.
These changes parallel some of the differences seen when obese people have been compared with normal-weight people in other studies, senior study author Dr. Jonathan Cedernaes, said in a journal news release. He’s with Uppsala University in Sweden.
The sleep-deprived participants were also 20 percent less sensitive to the effects of insulin. This pancreatic hormone helps regulate blood sugar levels, the study found.
“This decreased insulin sensitivity was, however, unrelated to alterations in gut microbiota following sleep loss,” said study first author Christian Benedict, an associate professor of neuroscience at Uppsala.
This suggests that changes in gut bacteria may not represent a central mechanism through which one or several nights of curtailed sleep reduce insulin sensitivity in humans, Benedict added.
The study authors said more research is needed to assess sensitivity to the effects of sleep loss and how it affects brain function and metabolic health.
“Longer and larger clinical sleep interventions will be needed to investigate to what extent alterations of the gut microbiota may mediate negative health consequences attributed to sleep loss, such as weight gain and insulin resistance,” Cedernaes said.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute provides more information on the importance of sleep.