According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 9.4 percent of Americans in 2015 had diabetes. It said that it was the seventh leading cause of death for that year and that the rate of new diabetes diagnoses remains steady. It also said that 84.1 million Americans have prediabetes, which can escalate to type 2 diabetes if left untreated. As many people with diabetes will confirm, sleep doesn’t always come easily. And the less one sleeps, the more one risks developing the disease. This serious condition has the potential to lead to vision loss, heart disease, kidney failure, and death.
Although type 2 diabetes is what we’re most familiar with, there are other types. The less common type 1 diabetes is a result of the pancreas not producing enough insulin. People with this condition have to take insulin daily. Another type is gestational diabetes which develops during pregnancy and typically disappears after giving birth. Type 2 diabetes, meanwhile, is when blood sugar levels rise to abnormal levels, and the body doesn’t utilize insulin properly. The pancreas begins making more insulin but can’t produce enough to stabilize blood glucose.
While not everyone with diabetes has sleep problems, a number do. They range from restless leg syndrome (RLS) to sleep apnea. Frequent urination is also a problem as the kidney tries to get rid of excess blood sugar. The same extra glucose can also cause you to feel dehydrated as it draws water from the tissues. You may feel the need to get up and drink water time and again at night. Together, these disturbances can make sleep quite elusive. If that’s not bad enough, not getting enough quality sleep raises blood sugar and insulin resistance. So starts a dangerous cycle.
Poor sleep quality and short sleep duration have been found to up the chances of developing diabetes. In the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, researchers studied subjects between 32 and 86 years old. They found that those who slept for five hours or less were more likely to have diabetes. Those who slept for nine hours or more also increased their risk. The researchers attributed this long sleep duration to poor sleep quality.
Good sleep restores the body and maintains metabolic functions. When you don’t get enough of it, your hormones get skewed. Your body won’t produce enough insulin but releases more of the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol keeps you awake but prevents insulin from doing its job, i.e. to regulate blood sugar. It also induces insulin resistance, which is a characteristic of type 2 diabetes. In a study, just a single night of sleep deprivation caused as much insulin resistance as being on a high-fat diet for six months. This shows how important enough sleep is to maintain blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of diabetes.
A lack of sleep has been linked to obesity which in turn prevents the body from using insulin properly. When you don’t get adequate sleep, your hormone levels go out of balance, and you tend to eat more. Inadequate sleep causes the hunger hormone, leptin, to drop which triggers the feeling of being hungry. Another hormone, ghrelin, also spikes and signals the body to stop burning calories because it believes there’s a shortage. Being overweight can cause fatty deposits to build up in the blood which impairs insulin signaling. This makes the pancreas work harder to produce insulin until it finally wears out and paves the way for type 2 diabetes to set in.
According to a Harvard study, about 85 percent of people with diabetes are overweight, and around 30 percent of overweight people have diabetes. It’s a known fact that excess weight can lead to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) which causes poor sleep and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. If you’re having trouble sleeping, get yourself tested for sleep apnea. Your doctor may prescribe the use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine that increases air pressure in the throat, prevents it from collapsing and helps you sleep better.
Maintaining a healthy weight can help manage type 2 diabetes by making your body use insulin efficiently. It also reduces sleep apnea. It lowers high blood pressure too which is a complication of diabetes. Aside from managing diabetes, losing weight keeps the heart healthy and lowers the risk of getting heart disease. If you have trouble finding a weight loss plan to follow, consult a nutritionist with the help of your doctor.
RLS can make it difficult to sleep at night as the urge to move your legs is extreme. Since a higher percentage of people with diabetes have RLS, it’s important to treat it so that sound sleep comes easily. Certain medical conditions are linked to RLS and iron deficiency is one of them. If you do have RLS that keeps you up at night, get your iron checked. Your doctor can prescribe medication to boost it to an optimal level. Smoking is also believed to aggravate RLS although the relationship is uncertain. If you do smoke, try to quit.
Nightcaps can relax and make you drowsy enough to fall asleep. Unfortunately, it affects the quality of sleep later. It blocks REM sleep and can aggravate breathing problems. It can also worsen sleep apnea by relaxing the muscles of the throat. Alcohol is a diuretic and having it before bed can lead to more bathroom trips. If possible, try to stay away from it altogether or have it only occasionally. Alcohol is packed with calories and can cause blood sugar levels to fluctuate which can be dangerous if you have diabetes.
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A relaxing sleep environment is one that’s dark, cool and quiet. Shut the blinds, turn down the thermostat and insulate the walls and ceilings if you live in a noisy area. Use a bed that’s comfortable too so that the moment your head hits the pillow, you feel sleep coming on.
Using a mattress like Nuvanna can help promote sleep as it’s designed for the same. The brainchild of an industry expert with over 20 years’ experience, it’s made up of three innovative layers that aim to help you sleep better. The top layer uses phase-changing gel particles that disperse heat and keep your body cool. The middle layer isolates motion and makes sure you and your bed partner don’t disturb each other with your movements. The bottom layer keeps your spine aligned and prevents your body from sinking uncomfortably.
Diabetes may not have a cure, but there’s plenty you can do to try and put it into remission. A healthy lifestyle and getting better sleep are paramount to keeping it under control no matter what type of diabetes you have. Exercise regularly, learn to de-stress by practicing deep breathing and stick to a bedtime routine, all of which can help you sleep better.