Sleep and Diabetes Type 2

If you need an excuse to turn in early, here it is:  the quality and quantity of your sleep affects your chances of developing diabetes.  Studies have shown that people who report sleeping less than five hours per night are twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes when compared to people who say they sleep seven hours or more each night.

Sleep deprivation may lead to diabetes type 2

Very short sleep duration (less than five hours a night) is linked to current and future obesity.  It’s also linked to increased appetite, whether or not a person’s weight is considered “normal.”  Lack of sleep makes us want to eat more.  It also makes us feel tired, which means we’re likely to do as little activity as possible and to make less-than-terrific decisions about what we eat.  The combination of eating more and moving less is a recipe for weight gain, and weight gain is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

Poor sleep leads to insulin resistance

People who are deprived of sleep have increased insulin resistance, meaning it takes more insulin for their bodies to process the carbohydrates they eat.  Insulin resistance is one of the key indicators of type 2 diabetes.

Sleep apnea and diabetes

Diabetes is a risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).  People with OSA temporarily stop breathing numerous times during sleep, causing a temporary loss of oxygen to the brain and body.  That causes inflammation and insulin resistance, not to mention exhaustion.

Sleep hygiene for better blood sugar control

I’ve always thought “sleep hygiene” was a funny expression — you’re not going to suds up your pillow before you lie down.  Nevertheless, that’s the medical term for having a good bedtime routine that helps you fall asleep and stay asleep.  Here are the basics:

  • Go to bed at the same time every night, and wake up at the same time every morning —even on weekends.

  • Sleep in a cool, dark, relaxing room.

  • Remove all electronic devices from your bedroom, including the TV, computer, and cell phone.  Stop using them at least two hours before you go to bed.

  • If you drink caffeinated beverages, stop them by lunchtime.  Caffeine can stay in your system for up to 9.5 hours.  (The average person eliminates caffeine in 5 hours.)

  • Avoid heavy meals and alcohol in the 2-3 hours before bed.  Alcohol makes you drowsy, but it also interferes with your ability to experience deep sleep.

  • Get at least 30 minutes of exercise each day — but not in the last two hours before bed.

  • If you have trouble falling asleep or if you wake in the night and can’t go back to sleep, leave your bedroom.  Go to another quiet room and read the dullest book you can find using a dim light.  Don’t go back to bed until you actually feel sleepy.  Repeat that process as needed.

  • If you have trouble sleeping at night, avoid naps.  Naps seem like a great idea in the daytime, but we usually regret them about 2 a.m.  Take a walk instead of a nap and you’ll likely sleep better at night.

The methods above are the ones that I used several years ago to get out of a year-long rut of poor sleep.  It’s not easy to implement all those changes, and they didn’t work overnight, but they did ultimately work for me.  If you suffer from lack of sleep, I hope they’ll work for you too.  If they don’t, it’s really important that you find a solution that does work — your health depends on it.

Action Steps, Day 29:

  1. Think about the quantity and the quality of your sleep.  How many hours of sleep did you get each of the last 3 nights?  Did you wake up feeling refreshed or tired?

  2. If you wake up feeling tired, follow the sleep hygiene routine above for at least one week.

  3. If you still wake up tired, take this Sleep Apnea Screening Quiz.  Make an appointment with your healthcare provider if your quiz indicates you may have sleep apnea.

  4. If you’re following the 30 Days to Tame Type 2 Diabetes series, you’ve worked hard and earned another day of rest.  Enjoy!


This post is part of a series, Tame Type 2 Diabetes in 30 Days

Julie Cunningham is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Care & Education Specialist. She believes food is the foundation of good health, and that our culture of obsession about body size is damaging to health, happiness, and productivity in far too many people. When not talking or writing about food and health, she can be found in the the mountains of western NC, where she lives with her family and four legged friends.

Julie Cunningham

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