Deep-sleep Brain Waves Linked to Blood Sugar Control

We have written many blogs about how important sleep is to keeping blood sugar stable. Good sleep patterns help you make great food choices. They also help regulate your hormones. However, no one has ever been able to explain why poor sleep quality increased the risk of blood sugar concerns until now. New research from sleep scientists at UC Berkeley found a potential way that deep-sleep brain waves regulate the body’s sensitivity to insulin.

Synchronized brain waves act like a finger that flicks the first domino to start an associated chain reaction from the brain, down to the heart, and then out to alter the body’s regulation of blood sugar,” said Matthew Walker, a UC Berkeley professor of neuroscience and psychology and senior author of the study. “In particular, the combination of two brain waves, called sleep spindles and slow waves, predict an increase in the body’s sensitivity to the hormone called insulin, which consequentially and beneficially lowers blood glucose levels.”  

These brain waves were already known to aid memory and learning. Finding that they help blood sugar shows just how important it is to get a good night’s sleep.

Vyoma Shah, a researcher at Walker’s Center for Human Sleep Science and co-author of the study, said there are practical applications for their discovery. Tracking deep-sleep brain waves could predict a person’s blood sugar levels a day in advance. It could become a noninvasive tool to predict a person’s blood sugar control.

The study was built off of earlier rodent research. We frequently write about animal research and urge people to wait for confirmation from human studies. In this case, the scientists followed up with a sleep study with 600 humans. They saw that deep-sleep brain waves predicted next-day blood sugar control. And sleep patterns mattered more than the length of someone’s sleep. They discovered that deep-sleep brain waves calm the nervous system and put the body in a low-stress state.

Professor Walker said that calming the nervous system “recalibrated” the body. “This rather marvelous associated soothing effect on your nervous system is then associated with a reboot of your body’s sensitivity to insulin, resulting in a more effective control of blood sugar the next day.”

The team hopes their research might lead to sleep aids that modulate brain waves. Attaining the right sleep pattern might be the key to unlocking stabler blood sugar without medication. Until those devices hit the market, you can help yourself by making a bedtime routine and sticking to it. Training yourself into better sleep patterns today could mean healthier blood sugar tomorrow.

Banner image: SHVETS production via Pexels

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