Can sleep be secret to diabetes prevention?

Mar 13 2017

Associate Professor Mitch Duncan

A new project from the University of Newcastle and Hunter Medical Research Institute is hoping to unlock whether sleep is the missing link in long-term, healthy weight loss.

Associate Professor Mitch Duncan, from the UON Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition, has been awarded almost $60,000 from Diabetes Australia for a trial called Sleep, Move and Eat, aimed at improving the efficacy of behavioural weight-loss interventions.

“Many Australians have poor sleep health, which impacts on their ability to engage in physical activity and also their dietary behaviours,” Associate Professor Duncan explains.

“Studies have shown it significantly reduces the amount of weight loss achieved in physical activity and weight-loss programs, yet it’s unknown if improving sleep health, in combination with physical activity and diet, can provide a greater weight reduction.”

In an Australian-first project, the research team will explore the effectiveness of a sleep plus increased physical activity and dietary behaviour intervention for weight loss compared to physical- or dietary-only interventions in overweight/obese adults.

The Hunter-based study will use a newly developed app to help people keep track of their sleep and activity, while also monitoring their diet.

Statistics show that around 75 per cent of Australian adults have poor sleep, lack of physical activity or negative dietary behaviours. At the same time, more than 60 per cent are either overweight or obese, increasing their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

“Developing effective and broad-reaching interventions is essential to improving the health of the nation, and limiting the rising incidence of people developing type-2 diabetes,” Associate Professor Duncan adds.

“It’s a really exciting project that hopefully will create new knowledge to improve weight loss interventions that prevent and treat diabetes. If this enhanced approach proves effective, the intervention will be available for public access thanks to the support of Diabetes Australia.”

Diabetes Australia CEO Greg Johnson says diabetes is the single biggest challenge confronting Australia’s health system: “Research into how we can prevent and manage the condition is critical to meeting the challenges we face.

“We hope Associate Professor Duncan’s research into the impact of poor sleep on overweight and obesity helps to inform future strategies to reduce people’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes.”  

* Associate Professor Mitch Duncan researches in conjunction with the HMRI Cardiovascular Research Program. HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.