Inadequate sleep has a proven connection in contributing to diabetes. Studies related to sleep and diabetes show that hormones and metabolism are significantly impacted by too little sleep in ways that promote diabetes. If you already have diabetes, it may be more difficult to maintain adequate blood sugar control with poor sleep. There is some evidence that sleep deprivation could lead to a pre-diabetic state. Diabetes occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells do not properly use the insulin.
What contributes to the lack of sleep and causes increased risk of diabetes?
A common and potentially serious disorder called sleep apnea can prevent a person from getting a good night’s sleep. If gone untreated, sleep apnea can worsen or increase the risk of developing diabetes. With sleep apnea, your breathing stops repeatedly or becomes very shallow while you’re asleep. Estimates suggest that up to 40% of people with OSA (obstructive sleep apnea) will have diabetes.
There are many effective treatments for sleep apnea. These include lifestyle changes, such as, weight loss for mild cases and devices to open up blocked airways for more significant cases. Effective reduction in the severity of OSA with treatment can improve glycemic control and represent a non-pharmacologic intervention in managing diabetes.
What happens to the body when sleep deprivation occurs?
Researchers monitored the blood sugar levels of non-diabetic participants, who were allowed only four hours of sleep per night for six nights. After 6 nights of little sleep, they had higherthan- normal blood sugar levels. The dramatic effects on glucose tolerance went away once appropriate sleep was achieved. A distinct rise and fall of blood sugar levels during sleep appears to be linked to sleep stage. Not getting enough sleep overall or enough of each stage of sleep disrupts this pattern.
Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to elevated levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Insulin resistance is promoted by the increase in cortisol as the body fails to adequately move glucose into cells for energy. Sleep is a powerful regulator of appetite, energy use, and weight control. The body’s production of the hormone ghrelin, an appetite stimulant are increased while levels of leptin, an appetite suppressant are decreased with loss of sleep. This combination of hormone changes leads sleep-deprived people to eat more and make inappropriate food choices.
Lack of sleep can reduce the body’s ability to battle any infections. Research also reveals that a lack of sleep can reduce the body’s response to the flu vaccine. Sleep-deprived volunteers given the flu vaccine produced less than half as many antibodies as those who were well rested and given the same vaccine. People with diabetes are encouraged to get a flu shot every year, so make it count by getting some rest, too.
How are sleep disorders treated in the diabetic patient?
There are several treatments for sleep problems in people with diabetes, depending on the condition. If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, your doctor may suggest that you lose weight to help you breathe more easily. Another potential treatment is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP).
With CPAP, patients wear a mask over their nose and/or mouth. This treatment forces air pressure that is constant and continuous through the nose and/or mouth. The air pressure is adjusted so that it is just enough to prevent the upper airway tissues from collapsing during sleep. CPAP prevents airway closure while in use, but apnea episodes return and health risks return when CPAP is stopped or is used improperly.
How do I ensure I am getting sufficient sleep and am not at an increased risk of diabetes?
How much sleep you get is important, but so is the quality. Because the disorder disrupts your sleep, you may feel very sleepy during the day. Common symptoms of sleep apnea include loud snoring, gasping, or choking. While everyone has trouble sleeping on occasion, you may need to ask your doctor about testing and treatment. A consultation with a sleep specialist is recommended if you have these symptoms and/or experience any of these following:
- Regular difficulty with sleeping
- Tiredness during the day even if you have slept at least 7 hours
- Trouble performing daily activities
- Difficulty concentrating
- Restless legs