Optimizing Sleep with Diabetes

If you are like a third of American adults, you are probably not getting enough sleep or quality sleep. When I was younger, I used to envy those who thrived on five hours of sleep (or claimed they did) but now, I wish I could sleep more so I can feel more vibrant during the day. If you have diabetes, proper rest is critical so in this blog, I’ll share evidence and tips on the importance of sleep in diabetes management.

Did you know that lack of sleep (less than seven hours per night) can have the following negative impacts:

  • Make you hungrier and more likely to reach for caloric foods that are high in sugar, fat and carbs. I remember the desperately needed pizza runs during college while studying/cramming through the night – which led to the “freshman 15”. Lack of sleep decreases hormones promoting satiety and/or increases hormones promoting hunger so you get a double whammy of eating more and not being satisfied.
  • Studies have shown the impact of sleep deprivation on Increased insulin resistance, thus raising your risk level for diabetes and making it harder to lose weight.
  • Sleep deprivation can Impair mood, performance and cognitive function. I am almost always in a funky mood after a poor night’s sleep so for me, lack of sleep is a depressant.

This study found the correlation between sleep disturbance leading to diabetes risk – and having diabetes can affect your ability to sleep for the following reasons:

  • The need for frequent urination caused by high blood sugar levels.
  • If your blood sugar is low, symptoms like dizziness and sweating can impact your sleep.
  • You may have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) which is a common sleep disorder in people with diabetes. This is a condition where your breathing repeatedly stops and starts throughout the night which leads to poor sleep quality. This study showed that OSA patients are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes while more than half of Type 2 diabetes patients suffer from OSA. If you don’t feel rested after sleep, you may want to discuss with your doctor about taking a sleep test. The therapeutic use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to help you breathe without interruption can have a tremendous impact on your sleep quality.
  • You may be suffering from insomnia which is associated with poor glycemic control as shown in this study.
  • You may have restless leg syndrome (RLS) where you have a constant need to move your legs which is particularly common at night which in turn makes it hard to fall/stay asleep. This study showed that blood glucose and HbA1c were significant predictors of RLS in patients with diabetes.

Ways to optimize sleep

  • Make sure you are adhering to a healthy diet that will keep your glucose levels stable throughout the night. Finish eating at least three hours before bedtime and avoid large meals late in the evening to minimize indigestion and higher blood sugar levels during sleep.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol within three hours of bedtime – it not only raises blood sugar levels but will keep you from falling into the deep sleep your body needs as indicated in this study.
  • If you are a coffee drinker, switch to decaf or herbal tea after lunch so any long-lasting effect of the caffeine doesn’t keep you up at night. I have no trouble metabolizing caffeine but noticed that it raises my glucose levels a bit so I stick to just one cup-a-joe to start my day.
  • Avoid nicotine – it’s not only a stimulant but chronic use has been shown to significantly impact sleep.
  • If you are a napper, have it early in the afternoon and keep it to under 30 minutes. Long naps can disrupt your sleep cycle and make it harder to fall asleep at bedtime.
  • Log in regular exercise (30 minutes a day) as it will improve your sleep but get it done at least three hours before bedtime so you don’t get a second wind from the exercise high.
  • Aim to always sleep in the dark as even the tiniest amount of artificial light can disrupt your circadian rhythm (your sleep and wake cycle) and production of melatonin (hormone that is produced by your body at night to promote deep sleep) as shown in this study. You can wear an eye mask or use blackout curtains to shut out any residual light.
  • Keep your room temperature cool (lower than 72 degrees). When you sleep, your body’s internal temperature drops to its lowest level, generally about four hours after you fall asleep. The cool environment is conducive to sleep as it mimics your body’s sleeping temperature.
  • Turn off the TV at least an hour before bed. The blue light from the device and the stimulation will make it harder for your body to relax and fall into sleep. If you’re like me and need your Netflix to de-stress after a long day, try blue light blocking glasses and/or a blue light filter. Here are some to try:

Blue Light Blocking Glasses

Blue Light Filter Screen Protector

  • If you find it hard to calm your mind from all the activities of the day, how about trying a guided meditation before bed? One to try is the Zen Garden Sleep Meditation available on the Apple Podcast channel which can be downloaded to your iPhone/iPad. I like this option as it allows me to listen to it on airplane mode with no WiFi or cell signals near me to disturb my sleep.

Sweet dreams!

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