How Does Diabetes Affect Sleep?

Diabetes Glucose Test

If you have diabetes, it is quite likely that you are constantly watching your blood sugar.  If your levels get out of control and you find yourself in the doctor’s office, one of the first questions you’ll be asked is, “how well do you sleep at night?”.  All too often the answer is that you don’t sleep well at all.

Unfortunately, this is not surprising for people who suffer from diabetes. New studies indicate that there’s a two-way link between diabetes and sleep problems. Sleep problems and diabetes go hand in hand. Diabetes can result in sleep disorder, and conversely, a sleep disorder can increase your chances of developing diabetes.

To gain a better understanding of how diabetes can affect the quality of your sleep, it is crucial to have an understanding of diabetes and what it does to your body.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disorder in which your body does not properly regulate insulin.  This can happen one of two ways. One is that your pancreas does not produce any insulin at all or produces inadequate amounts (type 1 diabetes).  A second way this could happen would be that the existing insulin does not function properly (type 2 diabetes). This results in the development of excessive amounts of glucose in your blood. Diabetes develops when glucose, converted from foods you eat, cannot enter the body’s cells to be used as fuel.

For individuals with diabetes, sleep disturbance is often caused by complications and symptoms of the disease. Let’s explore the different symptoms and their effect on your sleep.

1. High Blood Sugar

High blood sugar, also known as hyperglycemia, is a condition that results in abnormally high levels of glucose in your blood and is the hallmark sign of diabetes.

When your blood sugar level is extremely high, your kidneys will try to get rid of excess sugar through urination. Therefore, it’s most likely to see you get out of bed and go the washroom all night, resulting in inconsistent sleep patterns.

Also, to reduce sugar concentration in the blood, your body desires fluids to counter sugar concentration, so you will likely to be woken up by feelings of thirst throughout your sleep.

Aside from frequent breaks from your sleep, sleepless and restless nights can hurt more than your moods and energy. Chronic stress levels associated with high blood pressure can lead to a less comfortable sleeping experience, as the condition is associated with feelings of irritability, unsettledness, and warmness.

2. Low Blood Sugar

Also known as hypoglycemia, this condition is opposite of hyperglycemia and associated with low blood sugar. Since your body cells require sugar to work properly and act as a main source of energy for your body, falling blood sugar levels sees your body cells extract their energy from other tissues and can result in a myriad of issues within your central nervous system such as;

  • Dizziness
  • Sweaty
  • Hungry
  • Chills
  • Irritability
  • Headache
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • Nightmare
  • Sleepwalking
  • Restlessness

When there’s a drop in your blood sugar level, the reflex action of the body is to release hormones such as adrenaline, glucagon, and cortisol that regulate your glucose level. Some hormones such as adrenaline are natural brain stimulators, and can significantly reduce chances of having a wink of sleep.

Keep in mind that severe hypoglycemia, sometimes referred to as insulin shock is extremely fatal, and can result in seizures, loss of consciousness and even death.

How Does Diabetes Affect Sleep

Sleep Disorders Connected to Diabetes

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in people with diabetes. Apnea is marked by loud snoring and pauses in breathing while sleeping. These on and off frequent interruptions during your sleep can prevent you from getting a deep, restful sleep.

The condition is common in people with type 2 diabetes, and this is because many people with this condition often carry excess weight, which constricts their air passage. Therefore, being obese/overweight is a risk factor for sleep apnea, as well as diabetes.

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)

RLS is characterized by involuntary and uncontrollable urge to move your legs and is often coupled with twitchy and uncomfortable feeling. The uncomfortable feeling can be described as something moving or creeping on your legs or like an electrical shock.

RLS is a complication of diabetes, and is a common cause of sleep problem for people with diabetes, since the complication causes uncomfortable feeling while sleeping, and can be painful at times, as in the cases of neuropathy.

While diabetes cannot be cured, there’re tips that you can use to manage its effects. If you’ve persistent night problems, you might consider seeing your doctor, ignoring sleep disruption can make it difficult to conduct your daily activities.

On the short term, it helps if you consider changing your lifestyle to improve your sleep. Even if it’s only a small change, it has a potential to make a huge difference.