Patients with Diabetes Benefit from Better Sleep

Patients with Diabetes Benefit from Better Sleep

By Neha Vagadia, DO, Pulmonologist/Sleep Specialist—Virtua Pulmonology 
Patricia DeHart, RN, BSBA, CDE, Certified Diabetes Educator—Virtua Diabetes Care

Are you struggling to control diabetes? If so, you’ve probably already taken steps to improve your diet and get regular exercise. You may have even asked your healthcare provider about adjusting your medications. While diet, exercise, and medication are important for diabetes control, another area of improvement that many people with diabetes overlook is sleep. 

How is sleep related to diabetes?

Most people know that quality sleep helps support the immune system, improves physical and mental performance, and promotes overall well-being. But what most people don’t realize is that a good night’s sleep actually may lower your risk of developing diabetes—and help control blood sugar levels if you already have diabetes. 

Research has shown that people who are sleep-deprived have higher levels of cortisol, which can lead to insulin resistance. Studies also show that sleep loss affects the hormones that control hunger, which can cause increased appetite and make it more difficult to make healthy food choices. Feeling tired all the time also makes it difficult to find the motivation to exercise. 

Insulin resistance, excessive appetite, unhealthy food choices, mindless eating, and a lack of exercise can cause high blood sugar and weight gain that could eventually lead to diabetes. If you’ve already been diagnosed with diabetes, lack of sleep can make it more difficult to control blood sugar levels. 

Although sleep loss can increase your risk of developing diabetes, diabetes can, in fact, make it more difficult to get a restful night’s sleep. That’s because Type 2 diabetes is linked to other conditions that can keep you up at night, including excessive urination and obstructive sleep apnea, which is caused by a blocked or narrowed airway. 

What can I do at home to improve my sleep?

Whether you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes and are looking to improve blood sugar control, or you just want to get a quality night’s rest, here are some sleep strategies to try: 

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Exercise for at least 20 minutes every day, but not in the evening.
  • Don’t drink alcohol or caffeinated beverages or smoke after 3 pm.
  • Don’t go to bed too hungry or too full.
  • Keep your bedroom cool and dark.
  • Avoid naps during daytime hours.
  • Use your bed only for sex and sleep—not for work, watching TV, or other activities.
  • Turn off screens one hour before bed to limit exposure to blue light, which can disrupt natural sleep patterns.
  • Enjoy quiet activities, such as reading a book (not an e-book), listening to music, or meditating, for one hour before bed.
  • Deal with worries before bedtime—and write them down, if it helps.

What do I do if I tried the sleep strategies and still can’t sleep?

Although it’s normal to have problems sleeping from time to time, consult a healthcare provider if you’re still having trouble sleeping after two weeks of using the sleep strategies. Your doctor will look for medical reasons why you’re having trouble sleeping, which may include: 

  • Obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by a blocked airway. It can lead to loud snoring, interrupted breathing, gasping or choking.
  • Restless legs syndrome (RLS). RLS causes uncomfortable sensations in your legs that are only relieved by moving them.
  • Insomnia. Insomnia makes it difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep or sleep well. It can be caused by physical disorders or mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression.
  • Chronic pain. Chronic pain can make it difficult to get a restful night of sleep.
  • Excessive urination. If you’re frequently waking to use the bathroom at night, your doctor will look for underlying problems that may be causing excessive urination.

Will I need to have a sleep study?

Whether you need a sleep study depends on your symptoms and risk factors for certain health conditions. If you’re having symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea and have other risk factors—such as diabetes, obesity, or high blood pressure—your doctor may recommend a sleep study. 

A sleep study can be completed in a sleep lab or, in some cases, at home using a special testing device that collects information about your sleep. 

What happens if I’m diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea is a treatable condition. Your healthcare provider will recommend treatment based on the severity of your symptoms. 

For mild cases of obstructive sleep apnea, weight loss may help to relieve symptoms. Your doctor may also recommend dental devices that help to keep your airway open. If you have a more severe case of obstructive sleep apnea, you may need to use a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to prevent your airway from collapsing while you sleep. Surgical procedures also can remove excess tissue that may be blocking your airway. Finding the right treatment should be discussed with a sleep-trained physician. 

Getting a good night’s sleep is beneficial for everyone, but it can be especially beneficial for people who have diabetes. To find a diabetes educator or sleep medicine specialist that can help you improve your sleep, call 1-888-847-8823

Updated September 27, 2018

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