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Diabetes and Sleep Disorders

Research has found a strong connection between diabetes and sleep issues. Diabetics often suffer from sleep loss. And sleep loss can increase the likelihood of developing diabetes and exacerbate the symptoms for someone already dealing with the disease.

Diabetes is a group of diseases in which the body is unable to properly produce and/or respond to insulin, resulting in too much sugar in the blood and urine. More than 30 million American adults have a form of diabetes and another 84.1 million are living with prediabetes – a condition that, without proper treatment, often leads to the development of Type 2 diabetes within five years.

Read on to learn more about the relationship between sleep, developing diabetes, and improving sleep with the disease.

Sleep Issues and Developing Diabetes

Researchers have discovered many links between poor sleep and the development of onset, or Type 2, diabetes.

  • Across the board, studies have shown that people who are considered “short sleepers” (those who sleep less than 5 hours a night) have an increased risk of developing diabetes. And these short sleepers also tend to have a lower than average glucose tolerance, even if they haven’t been diagnosed with or previously shown other symptoms of diabetes.

Other studies have linked a lack of sleep to insulin resistance – another common precursor to Type 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance is a condition in which the body’s cells do not respond normally to insulin.

  • A case study presented at a meeting of the American Diabetes Society found that healthy young people who regularly slept for less than 6.5 hours a night had a higher occurrence of insulin resistance. By contrast, people who got more than 7.5 hours of sleep had a lower occurrence of insulin resistance.

A lack of sleep has also been connected to obesity – a condition which has been linked to the development and increased severity of diabetes.

  • Researchers have shown that a lack of sleep can impair glucose metabolism and affect appetite regulation, making it more difficult for your body to control hunger or recognize satiation. In addition, the exhaustion someone feels when sleep deprived makes it difficult to exercise and control weight gain. Getting more than 7 hours of sleep a night is a key factor in preventing obesity and therefore containing the risk of developing diabetes.

Sleep Issues with Diabetes

Diabetics often struggle with a variety of sleeping problems. People will diabetes have a slightly higher reported rate of insomnia. That’s to be expected, as diabetes symptoms can make it more difficult to sleep and a lack of sleep can worsen diabetes symptoms.

Unregulated blood sugar and imbalanced hormone levels can make a good night’s sleep seem elusive. Having high blood sugar levels during the day often makes it difficult for the body to sleep effectively at night. And being tired makes it harder for the body to regulate blood sugar.

Those dealing with diabetes are also faced with a number of issues that can affect their comfort, especially while trying to sleep.

  • Increased levels of blood sugar can cause neuropathic pain, which is an uncomfortable tingling or burning the fingers, toes, hands, and feet.
  • Restless Leg Syndrome (RSL) affects a higher percentage of people with diabetes, another contributing factor to disrupted sleep.
  • Apnea is another frequent cause of concern among diabetic sleepers. A wide variety of people struggle with sleep apnea – a serious disorder in which a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. Diabetics, especially those who are obese, are more prone to experience its symptoms.

Managing Sleep Issues with Diabetes

There is an undeniable link between poor sleep and diabetes, as one tends to both aggravate and intensify the other. But managing to improve one also tends to make it easier to manage the other.

Eating correctly and properly maintaining blood sugar levels throughout the day makes it easier for the body to maintain the necessary levels throughout the night, often resulting in better sleep quality. Maintaining proper blood sugar levels can also reduce the symptoms of neuropathy and RLS.

In turn, more and higher quality sleep has been shown to decrease glucose levels and make diabetes symptoms easier to manage.

Additional Resources

For more information about dealing with diabetes and managing the sleep problems associated with the disease, please visiting the following resources:

On the Web

The American Diabetes Association: The ADA is devoted to diabetes education, advocacy, and research. The organization’s website provides practical information as well as active message boards for adults with type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes Self Management: This comprehensive site encompasses a wide-range of issues related to diabetes, from sleep management to nutrition and exercise.

Defeat Diabetes Foundation: This unique site, founded by a senior citizen, marathon runner who is also an insulin-dependent diabetic, emphasizes that people with diabetes are neither “helpless nor hopeless.” The site has a strong focus on self-care.

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: The nation’s largest organization of nutrition and food experts offers recipes, healthy eating tips and helpful advice for the general public, but the site also features many articles specifically related to diabetes and nutrition.

On Twitter

CDCDiabetes: The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has a dedicated diabetes handle, where they share updates, statistics, recipes and other interesting information.

Diabetes Daily: You’ll get the latest in diabetes news, along with practical information for living daily life while managing your diabetes.

TuDiabetes: This community of people touched by diabetes shares personal stories and educational links, with a goal to connect, empower and mobilize those affected by diabetes.

Susan G. Weiner, RD: A nutritionist specializing in diabetes advocacy, Weiner shares tons of information about the dietary aspects of managing diabetes.