We are aware that there are certain factors that increase your risk of developing both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. In the main, your family medical history, how much you weigh, and what you eat, are seen as the main components.
However, have you ever considered the relationship between diabetes and sleep deprivation?
I would hazard a guess that the link between sleep deprivation (or insomnia) and diabetes is often overlooked, but that could have tragic consequences.
If I’m completely honest, I often think that a lack of sleep doesn’t get the attention it deserves in the modern day-and-age, as it can be responsible for so many other health conditions as well, some that you may never even have considered.
Therefore, in this article I’d like to highlight numerous aspects about diabetes and sleep deprivation.
Looking At Sleep From A Diabetic Point Of View
I’m going to get straight to the point here – a lack of sleep, typically defined as less than 7 hours a night, can have a disastrous effect on diabetes and your health in general.
Let’s look at the fallout from a lack of sleep:
- An increased insulin resistance, which is a primary cause of type 2 diabetes, a challenge you will face on a daily basis with type 1 diabetes, and it can also be a major concern in prediabetes.
- You will have feelings of increased hunger the following day and you’re less likely to feel full, even after eating (this will be due to the hormones ghrelin and leptin being out of sync).
- People who are sleep-deprived tend to consume more food and make bad food choices, such as consuming junk foods. The last thing you need as a diabetic are high-carb and high-sugar snacks and meals to counteract a bad night’s rest.
- It’s harder to lose weight when we’re sleep-deprived, as the body tends to burn muscle and store fat, especially when you’re on a calorie-controlled diet.
- A lack of sleep is known to raise the blood pressure, which can significantly increase the risk of heart attack.
- If you’re not sleeping well this can weaken the immune system, something which is of grave concern if you are diabetic.
- Sleep deprivation will negatively impact both your mood and emotions, which can lead to anxiety and depression. I would suggest that this is crucial when it comes to coping with diabetes.
- There is an increased risk of Alzheimer’s and cancer.
So, as you can see, the impact of sleep deprivation on diabetes (and your overall health) is a huge cause for concern.
What The Doctor Has to Say On This Matter
Have you ever been present at a Doctor’s appointment when your blood sugar levels are completely out of control?
Typically, the first question your Doctor will ask is how you’re sleeping at night. I’m guessing that if your blood sugar levels are out of whack you’re going to answer, “not very well”.
If your blood sugar levels are really high your kidneys tend to take control and try to get rid of it through urinating. This will generally mean that you have to get up numerous times during the night just to go and pee.
The way I see it, diabetes and sleep deprivation go hand-in-hand and form a catch 22 situation or vicious circle of events. Having diabetes can affect your sleeping habits, and a lack of sleep may increase your risk of developing diabetes.
High blood sugar in itself is a huge problem for people with diabetes anyway, but is often compounded by sleep problems.
As I’ve alluded to above, if you’re tired you tend to eat more for “energy”, and often this can lead to consuming carb and sugar-ladened foods which will then cause a spike in blood sugar levels.
One of the main reasons your Doctor will want to eat healthily during the day is so that a good circle of events can unfold.
You eat well and your blood sugars are kept under control, which will lead a better night’s sleep. This in turn will help you to wake up feeling refreshed and energetic the following day, which will typically lead you to making wise food choices again.
Frequently Ask Questions About Sleep and Diabetes
During my research into this subject (I am not diabetic myself, but my late-mother was both diabetic and suffered from sleep deprivation, as well as various other conditions – so this led to my initial exploration of this topic) I have come across the same questions and queries time and time again.
So, here are the answers to the most frequently asked questions on this subject.
Why Does Sleep Deprivation Cause Diabetes?
Sleep deprivation typically increases the production of the stress hormone, cortisol. It is this hormone that makes the body’s cells more resistant to insulin.
There are other hormones that are affected by a lack of sleep, including testosterone and thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which can lead to high levels of blood glucose and reduced insulin sensitivity.
How Many Hours of Sleep Do Diabetics Need?
According to the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE) a person’s chance of cardio metabolic risk factors (diabetes, heart disease, or stroke) are dramatically reduced if you get six to nine hours sleep per night.
Furthermore, the medical journal Diabetes Care, states that the lowest risk of type 2 diabetes occurs if you are getting seven to eight hours sleep every night.
What is the Best Thing For A Diabetic To Eat Before Bed?
In order to ward off what experts refer to as the “dawn effect” or “dawn phenomenon” (both type 1 and type 2 diabetic’s blood sugar levels are known to potentially spike between 2am and 8am) you should eat a low fat, high fiber snack about an hour before bed.
Two great choices are an apple with peanut butter or cheese on whole wheat crackers. This will ensure that your liver doesn’t release an excess of glucose, thus keeping your blood sugar levels steady.
Why Do Diabetics Tend to Have a Hard Time Sleeping?
Type 2 diabetes can actually lead to various sleep disorders. One of the most common concerns is periodic limb movements of sleep (PLMS), which is when your arms and legs move while you’re asleep. This typically occurs every 10-60 seconds and you have very little control over it.
This in turn can lead to sleep maintenance insomnia (where you have trouble staying asleep or wake up extremely early and can’t get back to sleep) or excessive daytime sleepiness (this is when you wake up exhausted even though you may have “slept” for the recommended amount of time).
In addition to certain insomnia-based sleep disorders, there are other issues that affect sleep which you may face as a diabetic.
I’ve mentioned that high blood sugar levels can cause the need to urinate regularly. So, if your blood sugar is extremely high during the night you will probably be making very frequent trips to the bathroom.
The extra glucose in the body will typically draw water from various tissues of the body. This will generally make you feel dehydrated, so you may be getting up countless times during the night to drink water (which may lead to wanting to urinate again).
Sweating, dizziness and the shakes are all symptoms of low blood sugar which of course can impact on your sleep.
Why is Melatonin Bad For Diabetics?
Melatonin is the natural hormone released by the body when it feels it is time to sleep. Many insomniacs and people who have trouble sleeping often turn to melatonin supplements. This is a way to increase the levels of the “sleep hormone” in the body, supposedly making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.
However, studies have shown that by increasing the levels of melatonin in the body (through supplements) the islet cells in the pancreas have a reduced ability to release insulin. Therefore, as a diabetic you should definitely avoid the use of melatonin medications.
Some Interesting Results From Clinical Studies
I read Dr. Matthew Walker’s fantastic book, Why We Sleep, last year and inside he revealed some very interesting results from certain sleep studies.
A number of participants who were in perfectly good health, with no signs of diabetes or problems with blood sugar levels, took part in a sleep study. They were all limited to just fours sleep per night over a six-day period.
It appeared that all members of the study had moved into the prediabetes range within the space of just 6 days. Dr. Walker stated that many labs around the world had replicated this study, some with less aggressive reductions in sleep, and all found that had an impact on blood sugar levels.
There was another experiment conducted over 10 nights, where half the participants slept for 8.5 hours a night and the other half were limited to 5-6 hours per night.
The group who slept for the shorter period consumed on average 300 more calories on a daily basis. Now that may not sound a lot, but it adds up to about 20lbs in weight gained over the course of a year.
It was also found that the group that were sleep deprived were more inclined to snack on high carb and high sugar snacks.
We are aware that a lack of sleep can affect the hunger hormone, ghrelin, as well as the hormone leptin (which tells the brain when we are full).
However, Dr. Walker claims that a lack of sleep can increase the levels of endocannabinoids, which stimulate hunger and our urge to snack, very much in the same way as cannabis and marijuana do.
So, in effect a lack of sleep can give you the “munchies”.
All-in-all these studies prove that not getting the nominal amount of sleep can have a detrimental effect on blood sugar levels and diabetes.
It appears that diabetes and sleep deprivation are inextricably linked.
Basically, diabetes can lead to sleepless nights and a lack of sleep can lead to diabetes, or at the very least cause serious problems with your blood sugar levels.
This is why it’s more important than ever to deal with any sleep issues you may have (as a diabetic), as over time your problems will simply get worse.
I would suggest practicing the good sleep habits outlined in my article How to Improve Sleep Quality.
If you believe that sleep deprivation or insomnia is already causing you additional health concerns then please take a moment to check out my review of The Insomnia Program.