Diabetes and sleep

If you are diabetic, you want to make a good night’s sleep a priority in your life. Studies tell us that poor diabetic control is linked to sleep deprivation (not getting enough sleep) and sleep disorders like sleep apnea.

What is diabetes? Diabetes occurs when either the person’s pancreas does not make enough insulin (type 1 diabetes) or the cells in their bodies don’t response to the insulin so they become resistant (type 2 diabetes). Diabetes causes an abnormal rise in levels of blood sugar, which accumulate in body organs and cause damage to the kidneys, blood vessels, eyes and brain to name a few.  HbA (1c) is a form of hemoglobin that is used to test average blood sugar levels over a long period of time.

How does diabetes affect your sleep quality? If your blood sugar is high, you are more likely to get up multiple times at night to urinate so your kidneys can get rid of the extra sugar. The frequent awakenings disrupt your sleep quality and make you  tired and sleepy during the day.

Decreased sleep duration is associated with higher levels of HbA (1c) as well as an increased risk of pre-diabetic state and impaired glucose control in young adults. This, according to a New Zealand study which was published in the 2011 November issue of Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health suggests that sleep deprivation has both short term negative effect on blood sugar control and potentially long-term health problems.

How does bad sleep affect diabetes? That happens in different ways.

  • If you simply don’t get enough sleep and you are sleep deprived, you will increase your chance of having insulin resistance and can end up with a state that resembles pre-diabetes.
  • If you don’t get a good night sleep and you walk around with low energy, you are more likely to overindulge during the day to get some extra energy and that behavior will then affect your blood sugar control.

There is a relationship between sleep apnea and diabetes. A 2006 study published in the November issue of Thorax tells us that sleep apnea is highly prevalent in men with type 2 diabetes with nearly 23% of them have sleep apnea.  Obesity is one cause but other unknown factors also play a role in the increased prevalence of sleep apnea in diabetes. Sleep apnea in itself has a negative effect on diabetes. It affects their blood sugar level. It also increases the diabetic’s risk for cardiovascular disease including hypertension.

The good news is that treatment of sleep apnea using CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) is shown to improve glucose levels in diabetic patients during the night.  These finding were published in the 2008 December issue of Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

How to get good night sleep in a diabetic individual

  • Make it a priority. A good night’s sleep is crucial for diabetic health.
  • If you suspect symptoms of sleep apnea, talk to your doctor and request testing. Signs include snoring, restless sleep, daytime sleepiness or fatigue and low energy to name a few. If you have sleep apnea, seek treatment.
  • Make sure you follow good sleep habits (see section in this website)
  • Exercise is a wonderful tool to help you shed some weight and improve your diabetic control, not to mention it lifts your mood. Make exercise a daily habit.