Both high blood sugar and low blood sugar during the night can lead to insomnia and subsequent daytime fatigue. Feelings of depression or stress about the chronic nature of the disease can also lead to disrupted sleep.
When your blood sugar levels are elevated, your kidneys try to compensate by flushing out excess sugar via urine. This can lead to frequent urination during the night. Dehydration can also cause you to feel thirsty and develop headaches, which can further keep you awake at night.
Not taking antidiabetic medications as prescribed and going hungry for several hours can also cause insomnia.
What sleep disorders are commonly associated with diabetes?
- Restless leg syndrome (RLS): Approximately 1 in 5 people with type II diabetes suffer from restless leg syndrome (RLS). RLS is characterized by pain, tingling, or other uncomfortable sensations in the legs that can disturb sleep.
- Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): Obstructive sleep apnea is characterized by frequent episodes of breathing cessation, which interferes with the ability to stay asleep. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 7 in 10 people with type II diabetes have OSA. It is more common in people who are obese or have an increased neck circumference, which obstructs the airways.
7 tips for getting better sleep with diabetes
- Manage your blood sugar levels: Eat a healthy diet and follow instructions regarding medication dosages and timing. This can keep your blood sugar levels from going too high or too low during the day or night.
- Exercise regularly: Even 10 minutes of exercise during the day increases your internal body temperature. This can help you drift off to sleep when your temperature lowers at night. Exercise can also help you maintain a healthy weight and control your blood sugar levels.
- Practice good sleep hygiene: Wear breathable pajamas, make sure your mattress is clean and comfortable, avoid caffeine in the evening, and avoid eating a heavy or fatty meal before bed.
- Stay away from blue light before bedtime: Exposure to blue light—which is emitted from electronic devices—close to bedtime can disrupt sleep and affect your metabolism. A study published in the journal PLoS ONE (May 2016) suggests that blue light exposure is associated with an increase in insulin resistance, which affects the body’s ability to keep blood sugar levels in check.
- Avoid alcohol before bedtime: Alcohol affects blood sugar levels and can cause frequent trips to the bathroom during the night. The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recommends avoiding alcohol 4 hours before bedtime.
- Avoid daytime naps: Avoid napping for more than 20 minutes during the day, as this can make it difficult to fall asleep at night.
- Correct obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): If you have symptoms such as loud snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, irritability, and morning headaches, you may have OSA. Ask your doctor about getting a sleep study. OSA can be managed with breathing devices such as a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.
- Manage your stress levels: Stress can raise your blood sugar levels, and increased blood sugar levels can cause you more stress. To stop this vicious cycle, find ways to relax and de-stress with techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, or tai chi.
Pacheco D. Lack of Sleep and Diabetes. Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/physical-health/lack-of-sleep-and-diabetes
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