Did you have a good night’s sleep last night? We hope you did, but some people aren’t as lucky each night. In fact, a 2011 study found that 35 percent of people with diabetes tend to have poorer sleep than non-diabetics. The reasoning stems from the behavioral and physiological aspects of managing diabetes.

When glucose levels are high, you can experience increased urination oftentimes resulting at night. This is because your body wants to release any excess glucose it is creating. With the constant need to wake up to use the restroom, this will cause more frequent non-refreshing sleep cycles. Additionally, those high levels can make you feel too warm or irritable to sleep. Similar issues also occur if your levels are low. Both hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia can cause fatigue and make you feel foggy when waking up.

There are many conditions related to diabetes that cause trouble sleeping – peripheral neuropathy, restless leg syndrome, and the dawn and symogyi phenomenons to name a few. However, the most common condition linked to diabetes is sleep apnea.

What is Sleep Apnea?

sleep apneaSleep apnea is when the walls of your throat narrow and cause your breathing to stop and start throughout the night. The lack of oxygen forces your brain to wake up, preventing you from reaching deeper sleep states. This can lead to daytime fatigue or drowsiness and excessive snoring.

There are two types of sleep apnea: central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea. Central happens when the brain doesn’t send proper signals to your muscles that control your breathing. Obstructive (OSA) is the most common type and is when your airways are blocked or collapsed causing your brain to wake you up enough to take a full breath or reopen the airway.

People with type 2 diabetes have a one in four chance of being diagnosed with this disorder. Sleep apnea can also be an early warning sign of type 2 developing, especially among older men. These interruptions in sleep affect your metabolism and your body’s response to weight control.

Speaking of, the connection between sleep apnea and diabetes has a lot to do with weight. Those who may be obese or struggle with weight control are particularly prone to developing this condition. The extra weight causes the tissues in your neck and throat to fall into your airway which results in the blockage of oxygen.

Not only does this affect your sleep and energy, but with the abrupt awakenings at night you can also see an increase in blood sugar levels. The stress of your body waking up makes your body release stress hormones releasing glucose into your liver. Over time, that can contribute to insulin resistance.

Do I Have Sleep Apnea?

The most common symptom of sleep apnea is loud and persistent snoring, but not all snorers have sleep apnea. Other symptoms include daytime sleepiness, insomnia, episodes of no breathing, headache, irritability, and weight gain. If you think you may be suffering from it, you can try asking yourself these questions provided by David Marrero, PhD (President of Healthcare and Education at the American Diabetes Association) known as the STOP test questions.

S – Do you snore loudly? (Enough to be heard through a closed door)

T – Are you tired or fatigued? (Falling asleep while driving or during inactive times throughout the day)

O – Has anyone observed that you stop breathing during sleep?

P – Do you have or have been treated for high blood pressure?

If you answered yes to two or more of those questions, you may want to talk to your doctor about sleep apnea.

How To Treat

The Complete Guide to Sleep Apnea - Sleepy Scientist

If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea the most common device provided to treat it is called a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. It is a mask-like device that goes over your nose and the machine will blow air into your throat to keep your airway open. This will essentially force small amounts of oxygen into your airways to prevent your breathing from stopping. It can be a bit inconvenient at first, but they result in better sleep.

If your sleep apnea is mild, you may benefit from making some simple lifestyle changes.

  • Set up a nightly routine by going to bed at the same time each night and waking up at the same time each morning. Our body follows rhythmic patterns that if constantly disrupted, can lead to poor sleep.
  • Improve your exercise routine and diet consumption to lose extra weight. This will help your throat open by reducing pressure on the neck.
  • Avoid stimulants and screen distractions hours before going to bed. These trick your body into thinking it is still daytime rather than nighttime.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs as they can relax your tongue and cause it to fall back and obstruct your airway.
  • Quitting smoking and sleeping on your side can also help.

Additional Tips To Improve Sleep

Many experts suggest removing all electronics from bedrooms such as TV’s, computers, and smartphone devices. These tend to distract more and keep people up. Additionally, the blue light of the screens can mimic sunlight, stopping your body’s sleep-inducing production of melatonin that makes it longer for you to fall asleep. It is even recommended to log off these devices 1-2 hours before bedtime.

When you can’t sleep because your mind is racing from local news, worries, etc. it may be good to write all that down before getting into bed. Meaning, you transfer all those cares from your brain to something else to free up your mind. You don’t need to worry about fixing those worries, simply jot them down and move on for now.

Avoid consuming caffeine 6 hours before going to bed as this can easily disrupt sleep. Caffeine has a diuretic effect that causes your blood sugar levels to rise resulting in increased urination. As mentioned before, this disruption oftentimes occurs at night making it harder to enjoy deep sleep cycles. Not to mention that caffeine and sugary drinks are meant to stave off daytime sleepiness and may lead to weight gain.

Exercising is healthy and helps keep your glucose levels in check, but doing so before going to bed can have a negative impact. When you exercise your body temperature rises, your heart rate speeds up, and your nervous system is stimulated. These effects cause your body to want to stay powered up rather than power down. Late-day workouts aren’t a huge problem so long as you complete them at least an hour before going to bed.

Keep in Mind

Managing your diabetes is stressful enough. Don’t worry if your sleep patterns aren’t quite there yet, but rather work to improve them day by day. Watch for symptoms of sleep apnea and properly treat them if you have it. Doing so will improve both your blood sugar levels and sleep quality.


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