Insufficient sleep is a growing problem in our modern society; we never seem to get enough pillow time. Research has found that this epidemic may have more negative consequences than just cognitive slowness or droopy eyelids: lack of sleep may lead to obesity, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

Researchers at the University of Chicago Medical Center found that sleep deprivation increases the level of fatty acids in the blood, which inhibit insulin from regulating blood sugar levels.

These researchers performed a study on 19 healthy men between the ages of 18 and 30. These volunteers participated in a two-stage sleep experiment. The first stage involved a full night’s sleep of about eight hours for four nights, and the other was a little more than four hours of sleep for four nights.

The findings revealed that after four nights of sleep deprivation, the men had a 15 to 30 percent increase in late night and early morning fatty acid levels than the men who slept for a full eight hours. These high levels correlated to an increased insulin resistance, a main indication of pre-diabetes, that lasted for nearly five hours.

Therefore, according to the results, when fatty acid levels stay high, the body’s ability to use insulin to regulate blood sugar is impaired.

“The result was a significant loss of benefits of insulin. This crucial hormone was less able to do its job,” said Josiane Broussard, PhD, leader of the study. “Insulin action in these healthy young men resembled what we typically see in early stages of diabetes.”

It is remarkable to see how sleep deprivation over so few nights can affect people — young, healthy people for that matter — so dramatically, and might instantly start them on the path to type 2 diabetes.

These findings support years of scientific evidence that insufficient sleep interferes with fat metabolism and blood sugar regulation. Esra Tasali, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago and senior author of the study noted that “At the population level, multiple studies have reported connections between restricted sleep, weight gain and type 2 diabetes. Experimental laboratory studies, like ours, help us unravel the mechanisms that may be responsible.”

The National Institutes of Health tells us that “Chronic sleep loss, behavioral or sleep disorder related, may represent a novel risk factor for weight gain, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.”

Therefore, researchers are postulating that even something as simple as getting more shuteye can help eliminate obesity and type 2 diabetes risk in sleep-deprived individuals.

So get more sleep! Your health may depend on it.