Diabetes is known for many things – perpetual thirst, frequent urination, constant hunger, fatigue and blurred vision – but sleep deprivation is one of the lesser-known side effects of the disease. In fact, sleep is so closely linked to diabetes that sleep loss of just six hours or more can increase blood glucose levels in your body.
Diabetes mellitus is a type of disease that attacks your body’s normal glucose or blood sugar supply. This can be especially crippling because glucose is the critical component found in your muscles and tissues that provide your body with energy and fuel. When your body doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use it effectively to process glucose, it can create significant health problems such as diabetes.
There are a few different types of diabetes: chronic kinds like Type 1 diabetes and Type 2 diabetes. There are also the potentially temporary, like prediabetes and gestational diabetes. This last one occurs when you are pregnant.
Regardless of which form you have, life with diabetes can have a significant impact on your sleep, which, in turn, can have severe health repercussions if you aren’t careful.
With these tips, it can be possible for you to enjoy excellent sleep health again, even with diabetes.
The Tie Between Covid-19, Sleep, and Diabetes
Coronavirus has had a particular impact on eating and snacking habits – an already challenging area for those with diabetes. The more severe Type 2 diabetes is often the byproduct of obesity and unhealthy eating habits, and coronavirus appears only to exacerbate the situation.
Medical Director Deborah B. Horn, DO, explains, “We are seeing individuals struggle with weight gain because of major life changes stemming from COVID-19.”
“It has to do with several factors,” she says, “including working from home, constant access to a kitchen, snacking on highly processed foods combined with limited access to gyms, increased stress and how their own genetics and physiology responds to these changes.”
In September 2020, UC Davis Health expressed concern over what it coined “coronasomnia,” its own take on the growing trend of insomnia from COVID-related stressors.
Even without diabetes, studies completed by the National Institutes of Health during the initial onset of coronavirus revealed a pronounced increase in insomnia, as well as acute stress, depression and anxiety.
We’ve come a long way since those early days, and for many diabetes patients, the situation has only grown that much dire. It’s harder to unplug from work when tomorrow is uncertain, with unemployment and business closures still running rampant.
Medical experts at UC Davis Health also blame the reduced sleep on the broken routines of everyday life in the COVID era.
“As human beings, we need some stimulation. We need some variety in our activities,” says Angela Drake, a UC clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. “When our lives become so repetitive, the lack of stimulation and activities contributes to poor sleep.”
Adds Dr. Hardin, “Circadian rhythms get out of whack. Those regulate every cell in your body. They affect your eating, digestion, immune response and sleep. Once the master clock gets disrupted, everything else breaks down.”
It’s hard enough to sleep during the COVID pandemic, but it can feel all the more helpless for those who already suffer from sleep issues from diabetes. All that snacking and unhealthy eating aren’t helping matters, either.
Between a poor diet and lack of sleep, more and more Americans are falling at risk of developing prediabetes or escalating to Type 2 diabetes.
Hormonal Balance and Diabetes
Researchers recently made a groundbreaking discovery linking a lack of sleep to the development of insulin resistance in males. Simply put, this means that less sleep for men means more insulin resistance, resulting in a higher likelihood of Type 2 diabetes.
A loss of insulin or a resistance to it, can cause a whole host of heightened medical risks for a person with diabetes.
In healthy systems, insulin does two things:
- Regulates your blood sugar levels
- Stores extra glucose for future fuel
However, when you have diabetes, you don’t have enough insulin or the insulin you have isn’t efficient. Without this extra mechanism to push the glucose into your cells, you end up having too much glucose and little to no insulin. How you sleep also impacts your body’s insulin production. Studies on insulin sensitivity in dogs show that just one night of poor sleep can be the equivalent of eating a poor diet for six months.
A lack of sleep can also contribute to elevated stress levels, producing stress hormones like cortisol which, in turn, cause insulin resistance. Cortisol is your body’s fight or flight response to stress, so when your body isn’t able to properly manage these hormone levels, it can quickly result in interrupted or shortened sleep and even insomnia.
Other hormones like testosterone and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) can impact insulin sensitivity and blood glucose. However, understanding how diabetes impacts your body can help you find better sleep and maintain a healthy life during coronavirus.
Regaining Control of Healthy Habits and Sleep
Just because you have diabetes doesn’t mean that you are doomed to bad sleep for eternity.
There are several simple lifestyle changes that you can make to improve your health and help you sleep better.
Getting exercise is one of the best ways to boost your metabolism and help you lose weight. It’s already a proven benefit for obesity and related disorders like sleep apnea, but regular exercise can also help lower your risk of diabetes while improving your nightly sleep schedule. Just be sure to schedule your workouts earlier in the day so you’ll have plenty of time to wind down before bed.
In addition to exercise, a healthy, well-balanced diet can also help you manage your weight and sleep better. Some superfoods, in particular, can promote better sleep habits, such as broccoli, seafood, pumpkin, nuts, beans, sauerkraut, kale, berries, chia seeds, avocados and oats. A cup of chamomile tea before bed can also provide positive dietary impacts while soothing the body and mind for bed.
By integrating healthier foods into your diet, you can promote better health and help your body better regulate its hormones. As a result, you also lower your risk of diabetes.
Weight gain and diabetes can increase your risk of developing sleep apnea. It is a condition where you continually stop breathing in your sleep, also showing itself in symptoms like snoring, dry mouth, headaches and insomnia. You may wake up frequently gasping for air because it is a condition that affects your ability to breathe normally in your sleep.
Some studies have shown that continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines can be helpful not only to those with sleep apnea but also to people with diabetes. By increasing sleep quality, these machines have also been shown to improve glucose levels, thereby improving blood sugar levels and reducing your chances of diabetes. More research is needed about the effect of CPAP in diabetes, but the results so far seem promising as another way to help control glucose levels.
Sleep meds, as prescribed
Your primary care doctor or endocrinologist may be able to write you a prescription for certain sleep aids that can help you rest more peacefully without exacerbating your diabetes. For example, melatonin is one such supplement that is natural and has improved sleep health in some cases.
However, you should always consult the professional advice of a licensed medical provider who can take into account your body’s unique needs and find the right solution for you.
Maintain a healthy weight
Obesity can greatly aggravate your diabetes, so it’s important to stay fit and engage in regular exercise. Exercise will also help you sleep better, keeping your body’s chemical levels at healthier levels while giving you the strength you need to live a healthier life.
Keep a test kit/snacks by your bed
Preparing your nightstand can help you if you wake up in the middle night and need to check your levels. By stocking your nightstand with your test kit and some easy snacks, you can quickly check your levels without having to leave the bed and fully wake up.
Comfort is key
When it comes time to count sheep, it’s made that much easier when you have a cozy, comfortable bed to sink into. If your mattress is sagging or doesn’t feel right, you may be losing sleep tossing and turning through the night. It may be time to get a new bed, and it doesn’t have to break the bank. You can find a mattress that fits your budget that also best suits your sleeping style for a more restful, relaxing sleep.
Best Apps to Manage Diabetes and Sleep
Today’s modern developments include the arrival of several new helpful apps that can help you track your sleep, monitor your diabetes and improve your health.
These are some of our favorite apps.
Fooducate helps you lose weight by tracking your calories and macros, in addition to your daily fitness and exercise. Available for iOS only, it will integrate with the Health app on your Apple Watch, iPhone or iPad.
Available on iOs or Google Play, mySugr is an app completely tailored to life with diabetes. It promises to make diabetes “suck less” while monitoring your blood sugar and diet, tracking your medication and more.
This app is designed to help you keep an eye on your diabetes by tracking and compiling critical data like blood sugar, insulin, medication and food. It’s effortless to monitor with compatibility for your desktop, tablet and mobile app.
This diabetes app is an all-inclusive management tool to track medications, monitor vitals and calculate your insulin dose. Even better, this is a smart reminder system that will help you stay on track with medications and glucose and insulin levels.
This app takes diabetes management to the next level with clear visuals, charts and graphs to help you understand your evolving health. It can recognize patterns in your normal levels, notifying you when a reading is too high or too low. It integrates with your OneTouch Verio Flex® meter to give you the most current data.
Available for free on both iOS and Android, One Drop is capable of valuable tools, like blood sugar predictions and daily support. Its Digital Membership includes the integrated glucose meter and test strip plan, so everything you need to maintain your health is delivered right to your door. One Drop is designed to address health issues like prediabetes, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
This app focuses not only on your physical health but also your mental health, providing you with multi-faceted support for your diabetes. It is designed to meet the more advanced needs of those with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes. It is free to download with in-app purchases.
Also free with in-app purchases, the Diabetes app helps you track and review all the ins and outs of your diabetes, paying particular attention to your blood glucose levels. It’s designed to organize your health data so that it’s easy for you to share with your medical provider as needed.
It holds a considerably higher rating for iPhone than Android. However, this is a community-based app designed to provide you with the emotional and mental support you are likely to appreciate when navigating life with diabetes. Connect with others who are going through the same things you are and share your experiences to expand your knowledge and develop your own community of personal support.
Life with diabetes may carry its challenges, but today, there are plenty of specialized tools to help you adjust and maintain a healthy, happy life. Diabetes is a condition that affects the body’s natural sugar, or glucose, supply that can result in advanced cases of diabetes, like Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.
While obesity and weight gain are closely attributed to diabetes, a carefully modified diet, combined with regular exercise and close monitoring, can combat these hormonal imbalances and help you maintain a fit and healthy life. Aids like a CPAP machine, doctor-prescribed sleep aids and a new mattress can all help you sleep better, so your body has a chance to rest and catch up from the day.
When you have diabetes, you may need to put a little more planning into your day with things like diet and rest, but there are plenty of tools, apps and tricks of the trade like these to help you stay strong, fit and healthy for many more nights to come.