Sleeping Disorders and Diabetes

It is quite common for diabetes and sleeping disorders to be associated with each other. Diabetes is well known for causing sleep loss for several reasons, particularly if blood sugar levels are poorly controlled. When your blood sugars are high, the body tries to get rid of the excess by increasing the need to urinate, which results in poor sleep from getting up and down to the toilet during the night.


There has been some evidence that lack of sleep could even lead to pre-diabetes. The reaction of the body to sleep loss can resemble insulin resistance, where cells fail to use glucose efficiently, and this results in high blood glucose levels.


Studies have shown that those who suffer from lack of sleep tend to be more prone to being overweight or obese, which is a major risk factor for developing diabetes. This excess weight can lead to a condition called sleep apnea, which is a sleep disorder causing pauses in breathing while you sleep and loud snoring. Sleep apnea causes the sufferer to sleep much less, increasing the risk of diabetes or worsening of preexisting diabetes. Lifestyle changes such as weight loss and diet can help treat milder forms of sleep apnea, but in more severe cases respiratory machines are needed to keep blocked airways open.


Peripheral neuropathy is a common complication of Type 2 diabetes, characterized by damage to the nerves in legs and feet. Symptoms of neuropathy such as tingling, pain, burning and numbness can all contribute to a disrupted sleep.


A condition called Restless Legs Syndrome can also impact how well you sleep. This is a specific sleep disorder which can cause an intense and irresistible urge to keep moving your legs. Like peripheral neuropathy, symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome include pain, pulling or tingling in the legs.


Keeping blood sugar levels well controlled is also essential for a good night’s sleep. Both hypoglycemia (sugar levels too low) and hyperglycemia (sugar levels too high) can affect the sleeping patterns in those with diabetes. Emotional distress can also increase your blood sugars, and these two factors combined can result in very little sleep.


Results of some studies have shown that chronic deprivation of sleep can affect the appetite. Lack of sleep can result in lower levels of a hormone called leptin. Leptin is useful for helping to control the metabolism of carbohydrates, so low levels of leptin have been shown to increase the body’s craving for carbohydrates, regardless of how many calories have been consumed.


There are medications available to assist with sleep disorders, but before you rush into medicating, there are some simple things you can try to help improve your sleeping.


  • Relaxation and breathing techniques
  • Soft nature sounds on CD
  • Regular exercise, but stop within a few hours of your bedtime
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine and nicotine in the evening
  • When you can’t sleep, get up and do something in another room. Go back to bed when you start feeling drowsy.
  • Use the bed only for its intended purpose – don’t lie in bed and watch TV or read a book.

If you are having difficulties with sleeping, make sure you discuss it with your health professional for monitoring and advice.

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