More than 30 million people suffer from diabetes in the USA alone. It is estimated that 50% of those people are plagued by chronic sleep problems associated with the effects of the disease. These numbers are from the National Diabetes Statistics Report of 2020, published by the CDC in the United States.
Currently, there is no cure for diabetes. It is an illness that must be closely monitored and controlled. In order for a diabetic to control the issues they face with loss of sleep, they must first understand diabetes.
What is diabetes?
Our bodies naturally produce a hormone called insulin. Insulin helps transfer glucose from the blood to the muscles, fat, and liver, and other cells, where it is used for energy. Insulin resistance occurs when the body has trouble producing insulin, or when the insulin fails to transfer glucose into these cells. Diabetes is a condition in which the body is unable to produce insulin properly. This causes excess levels of glucose in the blood. If not properly managed, this can have severe consequences for the heart, kidneys, and other organs.
How does having diabetes cause sleep issues?
Diabetes affects every part of your body and it affects how you feel. When you are regulating your blood glucose levels manually, you are aware of changes. When blood glucose levels are high, you may feel nervous, short of breath, tired, and have stomach pain among other symptoms. When your blood glucose level is low you may feel shaky, tearful, moody, anxious, and have a fast heart rate. These are physical symptoms of chemical change. It is your brain telling you something is wrong. It is your body trying to make you aware that something is wrong. Of the most sleep disorders diabetes face, perhaps the most dangerous one is Sleep Apnea.
When a person has sleep apnea their breathing starts and stops as they sleep. In one 2009 study, researchers found that 86 percent of sleep apnea participants also had diabetes. More than half of them had it severely enough to need medical treatment.
Most diabetics that develop sleep apnea have type 2 diabetics. This is because a type 2 diabetic is often overweight. Obesity can constrict air passages when a person reclines to sleep.
People who have sleep apnea will often feel tired even when they have had a full night's rest. They will snore loudly, sometimes waking themselves, often bothering others in the home who are trying to sleep. They sometimes struggle to wake up, struggling for a breath.
Other ways diabetes will keep you awake
If you have excessive glucose (sugar) in your blood, your body is going to try to get rid of it. High blood sugar is bad for your internal organs and it is bad for your heart. Your body is programmed to remove things that are damaging to you. Here are some ways your body may keep you awake with your diabetes:
- High blood sugar levels can cause frequent urination. Extra trips to the bathroom make for a long night.
- When your body has extra glucose, it draws water from your tissues. You will wake up throughout the night for water.
- The symptoms of low blood sugar, such as shakiness, dizziness, and sweating. This can wake you and frighten you. This is where glucose tablets are good. If you get up to eat, you often eat too much, then you get high blood sugar, and that brings more problems.
4 Ways To Stop Diabetes From Robbing Your Sleep
Understanding how diabetes takes our sleep is the easy part. But, taking it back is not so easy. Just like everything else concerning diabetes, it is about monitoring, controlling, and maintaining. So, let’s take a look at how we can take back our sleep from the grasp of diabetes.
➢ Get checked for sleep apnea
You may assume you have sleep apnea based on the way the people in your life complain about your snoring. Or you may assume you do not have sleep apnea because you are still sleeping. Or, you can fall somewhere in the middle. You think you have it, but it is not that severe yet, and you do not have it bad enough to worry about it. Stop playing with your health. Go to a doctor and find out if you have sleep apnea. If you do, take the steps to cure yourself. Use the equipment prescribed, and lose some weight. In a lot of cases, this is the biggest step you can take to reclaim your sleep.
Begin one hour before you go to bed. Unplug! Turn off the computer, the smartphone, the tablet, and the television. Remove radio waves, colors, and lights from your eyes and let your brain shut down. Read how on this level of relaxation helps balance the production of insulin.
Just like your meals and snacks must be measured and taken at specific times, so must your rest times. Naps should be limited to early afternoon and not last longer than 20 minutes. You should go to bed at the same time every night and allow extra time for falling asleep.
➢ No Nightcap
This is a tough one for people to understand. Usually, people think a drink just before bed will help you fall asleep. It may initially. However, alcohol will drive up the glucose in your blood, which may wake you up soon. You could struggle to get back to sleep as it takes about 2-hours to get the alcohol out of your bloodstream. Instead, have your drink with dinner or at least an hour or two before bed and have it with food. This will help metabolize the alcohol and give you a bit of the relaxing properties of the drink as well.
If you are new to diabetes and sleep disorders
Before we begin please consider this. Diabetes is a frustrating illness and it can become serious quickly. When you combine diabetes with a sleep problem, it is double-trouble. If you are new to controlling diabetes and sleeplessness, please be advised. Until you learn to understand the signs your body is sending you, it is important to always be prepared.
You must have your supplies next to your bed every night. It is a good idea to keep an extra blood glucose kit next to your bed. Just get a small kit with the meter, lancets, and free test strips and keep it there. Your blood glucose testing meter is the most important tool you will ever own for the rest of your life. It is your only method of immediate access to the information you need to control your blood. The Ascensia Diabetic Care company is the makers of the Contour line. There is more than 70 years of research behind this line. That is so there is a meter that any diabetic, no matter the severity of their illness or their income can afford to have a meter with them at all times.
Keep a tube of glucose tablets in case you wake up and find your blood-sugar has dropped while you slept. If your level is high, follow the instructions your doctor gave you. Get up, drink some water and begin to move around. He will have told you how to handle medication. If it is above what you expected or if it does not come down as it should, contact your doctor or seek medical attention.
Diabetes is a frustrating illness, but it can be managed. Sleeplessness is even more frustrating. There is no doubt that the combination will take a lot of dedication. With the help of your medical professionals, and the effort you will invest in this, you will overcome. You do not have to let this rob you of your life. You are in control as long as you assume the position.
Consistent and quality sleep can go a long way in helping your body combat insulin resistance. Be aware, though, that resting is only part of the solution.
Exercise and healthy eating are also a big part in helping your body create and use the insulin it needs. Type 1 diabetes and some aspects of Type 2 diabetes cannot be controlled in the same way.
Sleep can help you have the energy you need to create a healthy lifestyle that can help you be resistant to insulin problems. Here are five tips that can help you on you and your insulin stay healthy:
- Keep a sleep journal for a week. Take care to note what time you go to sleep and what time you wake up including anytime during the night you wake up. Write down what activities you do before sleeping. Also keep track of any snoring or restless sleeping. Keeping track of your sleeping patterns can help alert you to a possible sleep disorder that needs to be evaluated and treated by a certified sleep physician.
- Set a consistent sleep schedule. Going to bed and waking up at a similar time every day can help your body know when it is time to relax and when it is time to get moving.
- Create a sleep friendly environment. Keeping your room free from distractions, clutter, and electronics can help you feel more relaxed and help you drift off easier.
- Get the right mattress and pillow. A comfortable bed will allow you to go to sleep without discomfort.
- Change your nightly routine. The activities you choose before bed can make it harder to fall asleep. Cut out busy work and electronic use right before bed. Instead, focusing on relaxing by reading a book or taking a bubble bath.
If you are concerned that your sleep deprivation is affecting your insulin, don’t delay in seeking out help. At the Alaska Sleep Clinic, we can help diagnosis and treat sleep related issues so that you are the healthiest you.