Research shows there is a significant link between diabetes and sleep issues. On one hand, people who are consistently having a bad night’s sleep are more likely to develop diabetes. On the other hand, people who suffer from diabetes are struggling to sleep. “Over the past several decades, we’ve seen a rise in the number of people with chronic sleep deprivation, obesity, and diabetes. That’s not coincidental. The rises in these serious public health problems - sleep deprivation, obesity, and diabetes - appear to be connected” Michael J. Breus (The Sleep Doctor).
Sleep Apnea and Type 2 diabetes
It is a proven fact that people who aren’t sleeping well feel tired and have a lack of energy, which is negatively affecting people’s health. By trying to make up for the lack of energy, people are overeating. This results in blood sugar levels rising, making sleep more difficult. People who are not getting enough sleep are roughly twice as likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
When we sleep our body uses this time to restore and repair. This includes maintenance of our body’s metabolic functions, the ability to use insulin to regulate blood sugar and hormones that regulate appetite and eating patterns. With ongoing sleep loss, less insulin is released in the body after you eat. Sleep loss also creates changes to hormones that contribute to weight gain and obesity. This is why it’s so important to be getting a good night’s sleep. Hormones that regulate many of the body’s processes, such as appetite, weight control and the immune system, are not doing what they need each night, creating a vicious cycle. Lack of sleep can increase your risk of obesity and being obese can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
The most common sleep disorder for people with diabetes is sleep apnea, which is when a person's breathing is interrupted during sleep. A study done in 2009 found that 86% of participants had both sleep apnea and diabetes. Sleep apnea is more common in people with type 2 diabetes, as excess weight can cause restrictions to their air passage, resulting in trouble breathing.
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
Another sleep issue people with diabetes often suffer from is restless leg syndrome, which is when uncomfortable sensations in the legs occur and you have the urge to move them. People who have diabetes with high blood sugar can cause nerve damage, which contributes to restless leg syndrome (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke). A study done by The Diabetes Educator found that patients with type 2 diabetes, 54 (45%) of the screened sample met the four diagnostic criteria for RLS.
Having diabetes doesn’t mean your sleep has to be impacted. Here are a few lifestyle changes to help your improve sleep!
Having a regular sleep routine will improve not only your overall health but specifically your blood sugar
Limit the use of electronic devices before going to bed
Exercise during the day but not too close to bedtime
Limit caffeine and alcohol in the afternoon and close to bedtime
Sleep in a cool, dark room (take control of your sleep environment)
If you are having trouble sleeping, get out of bed and try reading, listening to music, meditating or practicing relaxation exercises
Cuellar, N. G., & Ratcliffe, S. J. (2008). Restless Legs Syndrome in Type 2 Diabetes Implications to Diabetes Educators. The Diabetes Educator, 34(2), 218-234. https://doi.org/10.1177/0145721708314180