The quality of our sleep is closely linked to any health conditions we have – if we’re not feeling our best, we’re not sleeping our best. Diabetes is no exception. Sleep can affect your blood sugar levels, and blood glucose control can affect your sleep.1 This leads to trouble sleeping. If you have high or low blood sugar levels throughout the night, you could feel tired during the day.2 So, what exactly is the relationship between diabetes and sleep?
What Is Diabetes?
People who have diabetes do not produce insulin the same way as others. Your body converts the food into glucose (sugar) as an energy source. This is done with the help of your pancreas, which produces insulin – a hormone that takes the glucose in your blood and stores it into your cells for energy. People with diabetes either can’t produce enough insulin or can’t use insulin well. When you have diabetes, the sugar in your blood – or blood sugar – is dangerously high. This can lead to a range of health problems, including heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, nerve damage, and eye damage.3
There are two types of diabetes, Type 1 and Type 2. If you have Type 1 diabetes, your pancreas isn’t producing insulin, so you’ll have to take it on a daily basis. If you have Type 2 diabetes, your body can make some of its own insulin, but not enough. Your body can’t use insulin correctly. Type 2 is more common than Type 1, with around 90% of adults with diabetes in the UK having Type 2.4 Symptoms of both types are the same, and they can include:
- Feeling very thirsty
- Urinating more than usual, particularly at night
- Feeling very tired
- Losing weight without trying to
- Thrush that keeps coming back
- Blurred vision
- Cuts and grazes that aren’t healing
What’s the Connection Between Diabetes and Trouble Sleeping?
When your body has extra glucose, it draws water from your tissues. This can make you feel dehydrated, prompting you to get up for regular glasses of water.5 Also, Lynn Maarouf, education director of the Stark Diabetes Centre at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, highlights that, when your blood sugar is really high, your kidneys “try to get rid of it by urinating”. When this is the case, you’re likely “getting up and going to the bathroom all night long – and not sleeping well”.6 These constant disruptions to your sleep – whether it’s getting up for a drink or to go to the bathroom – will damage your sleep quality. As well as this, symptoms of low blood sugar, like shakiness, dizziness, and sweating, can affect your sleep.7
Unfortunately, diabetes and sleep problems often go hand in hand. Diabetes can cause sleep problems, and there’s evidence that not sleeping well can increase your risk of developing diabetes.8
People with diabetes can develop sleep disorders, too.
Sleep Apnoea (SA) is a sleeping disorder that’s typically accompanied by loud snoring. Someone with SA will stop breathing for a brief moment while they’re sleeping. This will wake them up, but their breathing will resume, and they’ll go back to sleep. While someone with SA won’t remember having woken up at all, this can happen many times through the night. These constant interruptions to their sleep will make them tired during the day and sleep deprived. You can read more about SA here.
SA is the most common sleep disorder that people with diabetes can have – especially Type 2 diabetes. Part of this is because people with Type 2 diabetes can be overweight. This can lead to the air passage being constricted. Also, the increased carbon dioxide in your blood that’s a result of SA can lead to insulin resistance, worsening your body’s struggle with using insulin correctly. This can also increase your blood sugar levels, making sleep even more difficult.9
Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that makes it difficult for you to fall asleep, stay asleep, and get up in the morning. You can read more about insomnia here. You’re more at risk of struggling with insomnia if you have high stress levels, as well as high glucose levels. It’s a good idea to find out why you’re not sleeping – you could be stressed or anxious, or it could be because of your blood sugar levels being too high.10 Talk to your doctor to find out how you can help yourself get a good snooze.
Restless Legs Syndrome
Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder that’s characterised by an irresistible urge to move or stop uncomfortable or odd sensations. It usually interferes with your sleep. You can read more about RLS here. Risk factors for RLS include blood glucose levels and kidney problems, both of which can be a result of diabetes.11
How Can A Lack of Sleep Affect Your Diabetes?
Experts associate a lack of sleep with an altered hormone balance that can affect food intake and weight. If you have diabetes, you face a challenging circle. It’s common to compensate for a lack of sleep by eating an excess amount of food. The reason for doing this is to gain energy through the calories. However, doing this can cause your blood sugar levels to rise. This’ll make it harder to achieve a decent amount of sleep at night. And then, you’ll find yourself in the same sleepless situation.12
A lack of sleep also increases the risk of obesity. Obesity can increase the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.13 Clearly, sleeping poorly while experiencing symptoms of diabetes can be a hard cycle to break.
Help Yourself Get A Good Sleep
Getting a good sleep is key to reducing the symptoms of diabetes, and it’s also key to preventing diabetes leading to other health problems. We’ve gathered a handful of tips for how you can help yourself get a good snooze.
Watching TV or using your phone, laptop, or tablet in the evening can harm the quality of your sleep. This is because of the blue light that’s emitted from these screens, which can disrupt your body’s production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. This can delay your sleep, and it can also keep you from drifting off to a deep, restful sleep that your body needs after a long day. Keeping away from these screens for about an hour before you go to bed is a great way to get a better sleep. Read a book instead or listen to relaxing music. You can read more about this in our article, ‘Technology’s Impact On Your Sleep‘.
Have a regular sleep schedule
Going to bed at the same time every night, and waking up at the same time every morning, is a good way to promote a healthy sleep pattern for yourself. It’s recommended that adults get seven to eight hours of sleep each night, so work your schedule around what time you have to get up in the morning – especially if you’re getting up for work or school. It’s important that you’re consistent with this – keep the schedule for weekends, too!
Avoid alcohol and caffeine
While the first cup of coffee will help to raise your alertness in the morning, drinking coffee during the day is bad for your sleep. It’ll keep you too alert and awake for when you want to be sleepy. You’ll not go to sleep when you want to, and you could take longer to drift off into the deep, restful sleep that you need after a long day. Also, you should avoid or limit your alcohol intake, too. Even though alcohol can make you feel sleepy, drinking it in the evening will actually harm your sleep. You’re more likely to wake up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet, and you could find it hard to get back to sleep.
Exercising is a great way to help yourself get a good sleep. Not only does it tire you out to make you feel sleepy at night, but it also keeps you healthy and reduces the risk of obesity. It doesn’t have to be a vigorous work out in the gym. You could take a walk, try yoga, or go for a swim. However, make sure that you exercise in the morning or earlier part of the day. Exercising in the evening will make you alert and awake – not how you want to feel when it’s bedtime. You can read more about how exercise helps improve your sleep in our article, ‘Five Ways Exercise Helps You Sleep’.
While the above are a few ideas for what you can do to get a good sleep, the best way to help yourself is to talk to your doctor. Your doctor will know your symptoms of diabetes, and they can also find any symptoms of a sleeping disorder you may have – this will help them make sure you’re getting the right treatment for the best sleep.