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Last Updated on June 2, 2022 by Peter

Diabetes And Sleep - Is There A Connection Between These Two?

Whether you are healthy or suffering from a disease, it is crucial that you sleep well and long enough. Night’s sleep is especially important because then the body recovers and secretes various essential hormones. But it is not always easy to sleep well.

Many diseases can affect sleep, which is a very fragile state of our consciousness. Many people who are not even aware that they are suffering from some disease first notice that the amount and quality of their night’s sleep is declining. 

Sleep problems are very often the first symptoms of numerous diseases and that is why when you complain to a doctor about this problem, doctor will surely perform a detailed medical check-up to find out if there is an underlying medical condition.

One of the most common diseases that can affect sleep is diabetes. More than 4 million people in the UK suffer from diabetes. This means that one in 10 people over the age of 40 have diabetes and in more than 90% of cases it is type 2 diabetes.

Since we know that many who read our articles suffer from diabetes, we investigated the connection between diabetes and sleep for you.

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    How does diabetes affect sleep?

    When the body is unable to process and distribute macronutrients – proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, then that person suffers from metabolic disorder. There are many metabolic disorders, and diabetes is one of the groups of metabolic disorders. Diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not secrete enough insulin. The pancreas is an organ that has a role in both the digestive and endocrine functioning of the body. 

    Decreased insulin secretion leads to high blood sugar. In the long run, if left untreated, diabetes may cause cardiovascular disease, stroke, kidney weakness, damaged nerves and vision. There are three types of diabetes – Type 1, Type 2 and Gestational Diabetes.

    An image of a woman checking sugar level in blood.

    Type 1 is also called juvenile diabetes because it occurs in most cases in children. Type 2, adult-onset diabetes, is a consequence of obesity and insufficient physical activity. It is becoming more common in children as well due to the large number of obese children. Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes in pregnant women who have not had diabetes before and high blood sugar levels return to normal after childbirth. However, these women are more likely to develop Type 2 later in life. 

    Diabetes does not have a direct effect on sleep, like sleep disorders, but the symptoms of diabetes can often wake you up. Frequent urination is the main symptom that is to blame for poor night’s sleep, as well as increased thirst and increased appetite. If diabetes is not under control, then frequent jumps and falls in blood sugar will wake you up too. Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) leads to nightmares and sweating, so high blood sugar is not the only problem.

    So, does a poor sleep quality decrease/increase sugar in blood?

    We could say that this is a two-way street. Diabetes negatively affects night’s sleep, but sleep can affect blood glucose levels as well. Although researchers are not one hundred percent sure why poor sleep causes high blood glucose, there are several explanations and they all seem logical.

    It has been observed that people who have diabetes or prediabetes, which is a condition where the blood sugar level is elevated but not enough to be considered Type 2 diabetes, have intensified symptoms when they sleep only few hours. Studies have also shown a correlation between diabetes and sleep less than 6 hours a day. As many as 25% of people with diabetes do not get enough sleep.

    There is another indirect way how lack of sleep and later sleep debt can affect the occurrence of high blood sugar. When you don’t get enough sleep, the body secretes a hormone called ghrelin and that is hormone responsible for feeling hungry. At the same time, the secretion of the hormone leptin is reduced, which gives us a feeling of fullness. That is why sleep deprivation in the long run can affect the occurrence of Type 2 diabetes, because you will overeat as a result of insufficient sleep.

    What are the common sleep disorders that people with diabetes suffer from?

    Due to the various damages that Type 2 diabetes causes, even when treated, and especially when left untreated, people suffering from this disease often develop at least one of these two sleep disorders – restless legs syndrome and sleep apnea.

    Restless Legs Syndrome

    Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is both a nervous system and a sleep disorder. RLS can occur without any known cause, but one of the most common medical conditions related to restless legs syndrome is diabetes. Diabetes causes damage to peripheral nerves, which is called neuropathy. Neuropathy causes weakness, numbness and pain in the hands and lower legs, leading to RLS. In addition to the usual therapy for diabetes, you should try many other ways that can help stop restless legs syndrome immediately or at least make the symptoms bearable.

    An image of a woman suffering from Restless Legs Syndrome.

    Obstructive Sleep Apnea

    Diabetes is not considered a direct risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea, but what connects obstructive sleep apnea and diabetes is obesity. Obesity is a major risk factor for both diseases because it causes Type 2 diabetes as well as obstruction of your airways. Those who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea have different symptoms. Snoring and interruptions in breathing during sleep are the main symptoms. Also, sleep apnea is one of the main reasons why you wake up tired even though you slept for 8 hours. 

    An image of a young man using oxygen therapy to overcome sleep apnea.

    Obstructive sleep apnea is not the only type of sleep apnea, because there is also central sleep apnea that occurs when the brain does not send signals to your muscles that they need to breathe. Another type is complex sleep apnea syndrome, which is very rare and it means that a person has both central and obstructive sleep apnea. Continuous positive airway pressure machine should help.

    How to cope with sleep issues if you suffer from diabetes?

    If you have been obese and that has caused diabetes or you are suffering from this disease for some other reason, you should not cry over spilt milk. Rather, you need to take action to help you cope with sleep issues. If you stick to the following healthy habits, your night’s sleep will be good and overall quality of life will be great. Today there are many treatments and management strategies. That is why the life expectancy of people with diabetes is very similar to that of those who do not have the condition.

    Regular exercising

    We cannot stress enough the importance of making regular physical activity part of your sleep hygiene, such as long walks and workouts. Exercise will help you control your weight, but also improve insulin sensitivity, which is key to stabilizing blood sugar levels and preventing even worse problems with insulin resistance. Better insulin sensitivity will improve your sleep, and you will also sleep better because you will be tired from physical activity. So be as physically active as possible, of course in accordance with your condition and age.

    An image of a couple stretching and exercising in the morning.

    Diet plan

    Diet and regular exercise are the key to a healthy life, and if you have diabetes then it is even more important for you than for other people. Don’t think that your diet will be very monotonous because of the diabetes. You can eat a wide variety of foods. You can eat vegetables, both starchy and nonstarchy, fruits with lower glycemic index, meat, fish, whole grains and low fat dairy. You can also occasionally indulge in fast food and similar unhealthy meals, but this should be as infrequent as possible. When you decide to eat something unhealthy, eat it for lunch, not for dinner, so avoid problems during the night.

    an image of a healthy diet for an easier waking up in the morning

    Avoiding nicotine and caffeine

    Nicotine and caffeine are stimulants that everyone should avoid after 3 PM. Coffee and tea without added sugar are healthy, but only during the day, not in the afternoon and evening. If you need a coffee nap you should check your watch first. You should quit nicotine if possible, because it makes diabetes worse, as well as problems with peripheral nerves. If you find it hard to quit cigarettes, try to reduce the amount you smoke per day until you reduce the amount so much that the body no longer needs that substance.

    a young man refuses a cigarette

    Keeping the bedroom dark

    Melatonin is secreted only in the dark and that is main sleep hormone. Our body is programmed to secrete it in the evening, but if we are exposed to blue light or sleep with light on, that will reduce melatonin secretion and then you will not be able to fall asleep. To make sure you sleep in complete darkness, use blackout curtains. If you don’t have blackout curtains, an eye mask is a great option too, especially when made from natural materials like Panda eye mask. Consider using earplugs to further minimise sleep disturbance.

    An image of a modern bedroom with dark wood floor.

    Avoid napping

    Afternoon naps can be beneficial, but only if they last a short time and if you nap until 3 PM, similar to what we said about caffeine consumption. If your nap lasts for an hour or two, and especially if you sleep that much in the afternoon, when you return from work, you will have difficulty falling asleep before 1 AM or later. This is the case for everyone, not just people with diabetes.

    An image of a woman taking a post workout nap.

    Practice breathing techniques & relaxation

    You have to learn to relax. If you are under stress, instead of melatonin the body will secrete cortisol, a stress hormone. That is why relaxation is paramount. Whatever happened to you at work that day or if you were stressed while driving, just try to forget about it. We know it’s easier said than done, but there are techniques to help you relax. Yoga is a relaxation technique, and it will also help you breathe properly, which is very important. Proper breathing calms the heart and the whole body.

    an image of women working out and doing yoga
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