Carolinas HealthCare System
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How Sleep Affects Diabetes, and Diabetes Affects Sleep

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Why is a good night’s sleep so hard to come by? With the average amount of sleep per night among Americans falling below the recommended seven to nine hours, it’s a question many adults ask. But sleep issues are paramount for people with diabetes, since diabetes and sleep problems often go hand in hand.

Not only can diabetes cause sleep loss, but scientific research suggests that poor sleep may even raise the risk for developing Type 2 diabetes.

Chronic sleep loss has been found in some studies to increase production of the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates hunger. This, of course, could initiate a vicious cycle of overeating and weight gain – one of the strongest risk factors for developing Type 2 diabetes.

A small 2012 study showed that an impaired sleep schedule led to a 32 percent reduction in the amount of insulin – the key hormone regulating blood sugar – released in the body after eating.

On the flip side, getting more and better sleep helps improve the control of blood sugar levels in those with and without diabetes – and glucose control is crucial to avoid diabetes complications such as neuropathy (numbness, tingling and pain in the hands and feet); vision loss; kidney damage; cardiovascular disease; and limb amputation.

Diabetes Makes It Hard to Sleep

Although it’s been proven how important solid sleep is to people with diabetes, the condition itself can make it hard to get a good night’s rest. One issue interrupting sleep is frequent urination, a common symptom of Type 2 diabetes. This problem is worsened by high blood pressure, which is also common among people with diabetes.

Another sleep disruptor frequent among those with diabetes is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a serious condition characterized by periods of halted breathing while asleep, waking those affected repeatedly through the night. Both diabetes and OSA are linked to obesity and research is steadily strengthening the connection between the two conditions. If you think you have sleep apnea, see your healthcare provider. A sleep study may be needed for a definitive diagnosis.

While you can’t always control poor sleep, certain strategies may improve your slumber. These include:

  • Maintaining a consistent bedtime routine
  • Reducing caffeine and alcohol consumption
  • Keeping your bedroom cool and dark
  • Exercising earlier in the day, not before bedtime