Short-term sleep restriction results in impaired glucose tolerance. To test whether habitually short sleep duration increases the risk of developing diabetes, we studied a cohort of 70,026 women enrolled in the Nurses Health Study, without diabetes at baseline, and who responded to a question about daily sleep duration in 1986. Subjects were followed until 1996 for the diagnosis of diabetes (1,969 cases). Long and short sleep durations were associated with an increased risk of diabetes diagnosis. The relative risks (RRs) for short (slept < or =5 h per day) and long (slept > or =9 h per day) sleepers were 1.57 (95% CI 1.28-1.92) and 1.47 (1.19-1.80), respectively. After adjustment for BMI and a variety of confounders, the RR was not significantly increased for short sleepers (1.18 [0.96-1.44]) but remained modestly increased for long sleepers (1.29 [1.05-1.59]). We then performed a similar analysis using only symptomatic cases (n = 1,187). Adjusted RRs for symptomatic diabetes were modestly elevated in both short (1.34 [1.04-1.72]) and long (1.35 [1.04-1.75]) sleepers. Our data suggest that the association between a reduced self-reported sleep duration and diabetes diagnosis could be due to confounding by BMI, or sleep restriction may mediate its effects on diabetes through weight gain. Sleep restriction may be an independent risk factor for developing symptomatic diabetes.