May 3, 2023

How Does Diabetes Affect Sleep?

Are you wondering “how does diabetes affect your sleep?”. This is US MED’s overview of how sleep and diabetes type 2/type 1 intersect. 

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When you’re living with diabetes, you may feel like you don’t have time to rest. After all, controlling this disease requires you to perform regular glucose checks, watch what you eat, get physical activity every day, and keep up with insulin doses. But this isn’t the only way diabetes can leave you feeling exhausted – it can have an impact on your ability to sleep. 

Are you wondering “how does diabetes affect your sleep?” If that’s the case, you’re not alone. While sleep issues are discussed less frequently than other diabetes symptoms, they can have a very real impact on the lives of people managing this disease. This is US MED’s overview of how sleep and diabetes type 2/type 1 intersect. 

How does diabetes affect your sleep? 

Diabetes and poor sleep  

If you have diabetes, there’s a good chance that you also have trouble sleeping. Roughly half of all people living with type 2 diabetes face sleeping problems. Unstable blood glucose levels, high blood sugar, and hypoglycemia can all contribute to insomnia.  

When you’re dealing with hyperglycemia, your kidneys will react by making you urinate more frequently. At night, that means you’ll have to wake up to use the bathroom regularly, interrupting your sleep. Meanwhile, low blood sugar can result in nightmares, night sweats, and confusion upon awakening. On top of that, the anxiety and depression caused by diabetes-related stress can make it even more difficult for you to fall asleep. 

Does lack of sleep raise blood sugar? 

The link between sleep problems and diabetes appears to be something of a two-way street. While diabetes can contribute to sleep problems, having trouble sleeping can also make it harder for people to manage their diabetes. Research suggests a relationship between insufficient slow-wave sleep and high blood glucose levels in people with prediabetes and diabetes. 

It’s important to note that the jury’s still out on whether sleep problems cause diabetes or vice versa (and whether or not any other variables play a role). Still, the connection between sleep and diabetes is worth considering as you try to improve your sleep schedule. 

Diabetes and excessive sleeping  

While it’s easy to focus on how diabetes can prevent you from getting enough sleep, this condition can also cause you to get more sleep than you actually need. A study published in 2020 found that people with diabetes who got fewer than seven hours of sleep each night had a heightened risk of early death – and the same was true for people who got more than seven hours. 

Sleep disorders in people with diabetes 

The effects of diabetes on sleep are noteworthy on their own, but people with type 2 diabetes also have an increased risk of developing sleep disorders. The two sleep disorders most commonly seen in people with diabetes are sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome. 

Sleep apnea and diabetes  

If you have obstructive sleep apnea and diabetes, you’ll stop breathing for a few moments multiple times per night. Though this condition can cause gasping and snoring, you’ll generally be unaware of this. Still, these interruptions in breathing result in “micro-arousals” which can significantly reduce the quality of your sleep. 

Sleep apnea is not a direct cause of diabetes, but it is considered a diabetes risk factor – and 7 out of 10 people with type 2 diabetes also have sleep apnea. While sleep apnea is often seen in people who have excess weight, it affects glucose control and insulin resistance even when obesity is controlled for. 

Restless leg syndrome  

An estimated one in five people with type 2 diabetes will experience restless leg syndrome. RLS involves “tingling” sensations and other unpleasant feelings in the legs, which can make it more challenging to get to sleep. 

If you have diabetes, you should also be aware of a condition known as peripheral neuropathy. This differs from restless leg syndrome, but its symptoms – which include tingling and numbness in the extremities – can be very similar. If you notice these symptoms, make sure to notify your healthcare team. Peripheral neuropathy needs to be treated ASAP to prevent long-term nerve damage. 

Coping with sleeping issues 

Since blood glucose problems can affect your sleep, it stands to reason that improving your blood sugar control can improve your sleep hygiene. Because of that, anything you can do to get your blood sugar in range (such as sticking to a diabetes diet and getting regular exercise) should also help you sleep better. 

Some other common-sense ways to enhance your sleep include: 

  • Listening to relaxing music or nature sounds 
  • Avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine at night 
  • Getting out of bed and doing something in another room when you’re unable to sleep 
  • Not reading or watching TV in bed 
  • Using cognitive behavioral therapy as an insomnia treatment 
  • Learning deep breathing and other relaxation techniques 
  • Ensuring your bedroom is quiet, cool, and dark 

Sleep Better News

Being screened for sleeping issues  

When you’re getting screened for diabetes, medical experts will often ask about your family history of diabetes, weight, and level of physical activity. But they might not ask about your sleep habits, even though poor sleep can affect the results of biochemical tests. Fortunately, the American Diabetes Association and International Diabetes Federation have both officially addressed diabetes’ effects on sleep, so this could change in the future. 

If you’re concerned about sleep and diabetes type 2/type 1, let your doctor know. They might ask you questions such as: 

  • Are you a good sleeper? 
  • When do you go to bed? 
  • What is your work schedule like? 
  • When do you get up during the week/on weekends? 
  • Do you follow a regular sleep schedule? 

Talk to a medical professional  

Are you finding it especially hard to sleep lately? If so, it’s wise to reach out to a member of your healthcare team or another medical professional. If they think it might be necessary, they can set up a polysomnogram (AKA “sleep study”) to find out if you have a sleep disorder. From there, they’ll be able to treat any disorders you do have (for example, by helping you get a CPAP machine to control sleep apnea). 

How can US MED help? 

Whether you’re dealing with diabetes and poor sleep, diabetes and excessive sleeping, or sleep apnea and diabetes, you shouldn’t dismiss these concerns as “not a big deal.” The ability to get sufficient sleep is a key part of your overall health, and you already know how to answer the question “does diabetes affect sleep?” That means it’s best to take your shut-eye seriously. 

Along with the advice listed in this article, it’s a good idea to choose US MED for your diabetes supplies. If you’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea, we carry a selection of masks and sleep apnea supplies built for use with your CPAP machine. Otherwise, you can avoid high and low blood sugar by tracking your glucose levels with our CGMs and glucose meters. See what else US MED has in stock today! 

Shirley DeLeon Certified Diabetes Care & Education Specialist

Medical Review by Shirley DeLeon, Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist

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