You may already know how sleep impacts your hunger cues, your weight, and your brain function. If you’ve ever burned the midnight oil, you might notice that you feel hungrier the next day, or have trouble feeling full at all.
That could be because even slight shifts in your circadian rhythm can affect your metabolism —specifically, how your body deals with glucose after eating.
But can even one night of staying up too late affect your metabolism? And can you make up for lost sleep by sleeping in or taking naps throughout the day?
A recent study published in the journal Diabetologia shows how broken sleep patterns inhibit your body’s ability to regulate blood glucose. That means we have some evidence that sufficient sleep can stabilize your circadian rhythm, which helps regulate several functions in the body. Let’s dive into the study and see what else they found.
It turns out that, yes, broken sleep patterns (particularly interrupted sleep and staying up after midnight) can damage metabolic health. And even slight shifts in your circadian rhythm can throw off your body’s ability to restore glucose levels back to normal after eating.
Researchers also found that you can’t “make up” for lost sleep by sleeping in or napping the next day — the metabolic damage has already been done.
A cohort of 1002 healthy adults ages 18-65 was observed for 14 days, wore sleep-tracking monitors, and used a glucose monitoring device that measured blood glucose continuously in 15-minute increments.
Not only was their sleep tracked, so was the makeup of their meals. Every participant was given the same food over the 14 days, although different meals were supplied throughout the trial. Each subject’s metabolic response was tracked in response to meals with:
- High fiber
- High carbohydrate
- High fat
- Medium fat and medium carbohydrate
After 2 weeks, the authors found that falling asleep after midnight had a particularly harmful effect on metabolism. And both interrupted sleep and staying up late were linked with the body taking longer to regulate blood sugar levels after breakfast the next day.
Those with chronically interrupted sleep and late bedtimes showed even higher glucose levels longer after eating. And subjects with the least consistent sleep patterns showed the highest blood sugar levels and much slower metabolic responses.
They also found that sleeping for more extended periods without interruption was linked to lower overall blood glucose levels, even following high-carb and higher-fat meals when these meals are usually more challenging for the body to metabolize.
Why Regular Sleep Patterns Matter
This study showed just one way that irregular sleep patterns can impact your metabolism. Other research suggests that sleep restriction can also increase hunger and appetite —particularly when it comes to high-caloric and high-carbohydrate foods.
Pair that with your body’s inability to find a glucose baseline as quickly after a poor night’s sleep, and suddenly you’re at a higher risk for conditions like obesity, insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and other metabolic conditions.
Chronically-high blood glucose can also affect immunity and damage arteries and blood vessels, leading to a higher risk of heart disease.
The good news is that these studies suggest you can restore a healthy metabolism with more consistent sleep patterns and an earlier bedtime. Of course, that means adopting some good sleep hygiene practices, like implementing a bedtime routine and limited screens after dark.
And if you have to stay up late or have one bad night of sleep? Make sure to avoid breakfasts with a lot of sugar or processed carbohydrates, opting for higher-fat, high-protein meals to help stabilize blood sugar.
This study shows the detrimental impact that late nights and interrupted sleep patterns can have on your metabolic response. It also suggests that some good sleep hygiene and low sugar breakfast options can help balance blood sugar and protect metabolic health.
A few late nights won’t damage your metabolism for good, but this study is just one more reason to prioritize sleep and blood sugar-stabilizing meals.