Some risk factors for diabetes are out of our control, but there are still some we can modify. Knowing the latter gives us an opportunity to take action and lower our risk. And according to a new study out of Penn State, loss of sleep should be on our radar.

Slow-wave sleep (SWS), also known as deep sleep, is the stage in the sleep cycle associated with memory consolidation and reduced cortisol and inflammation. According to Jordan Gaines, a neuroscience doctoral candidate at Penn State's College of Medicine, the amount of SWS a teenage boy gets (or lack thereof) may be "a diabetes danger." Specifically, the study suggests adolescent males who experience loss of SWS may have a significantly higher chance of developing insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, increased visceral fat production, and impaired attention compared to boys who regularly get SWS.

"On a night following sleep deprivation, we’ll have significantly more slow-wave sleep to compensate for the loss," Gaines explained in a statement. "We also know that we lose slow-wave sleep most rapidly during early adolescence. Given the restorative role of slow-wave sleep, we weren’t surprised to find that metabolic and cognitive processes were affected during this developmental period."

While prior studies have shown SWS declines as a person gets older, Gaines cited little research explores the physical and neurocognitive consequences of this loss. To examine this potential relationship, she collected data through the Penn State Child Cohort and analyzed the long-term effects loss of SWS, from childhood to adolescence. Participants stayed overnight at the beginning (age 5-12) and end (eight years later) of the study, while also undergoing body fat, insulin, and neurocognitive testing at follow up.

In addition to an increased risk for insulin resistance, Gaines found loss of SWS was "marginally associated with impaired attention and increased belly fat." These associations were unique to boys — there was no significant association between loss of SWS and health consequences among teen girls. Interestingly, the sleep duration of participants did not decline greatly with age, suggesting the loss of SWS plays a role in disease development.

That said, Gaines said more longitudinal studies on the subject need to be done, especially studies on "the effects of experimentally enhanced SWS sleep."

She concluded: "In the meantime, we can use these findings as a springboard for future work on the sleep-health connection. The best thing we can do for ourselves today is keep a consistent sleep schedule, so as not to deprive ourselves of any more slow-wave sleep than we’re already naturally losing with age."

Source: Gaines J. Loss of sleep during adolescence may be a diabetes danger. Annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 2016.