Diabetes & Sleep

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What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition where blood sugars become elevated or uncontrolled because the body is unable to produce insulin or the body becomes resistant to effects of insulin. Too much blood sugar for too long can eventually damage numerous body systems. This means that diabetics are at increased risk for a number of subsequent conditions such as poor eyesight, strokes, heart attacks, limb amputations and kidney failure.

There are 3 basic types of diabetes: Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 diabetes, and gestational diabetes. It is caused by Type 1 is a condition where the insulin producing cells in the pancreas stop working. This often becomes evident in childhood which is why the condition was previously known as juvenile diabetes. Until the development of insulin injections this was a fatal condition but is now usually manageable. Type 2 diabetes is much more common and used to only be seen in adults. With the rise of the obesity epidemic it is now seen in children too. It involves the pancreas producing insufficient insulin and/or the tissues of the body becoming resistant to insulin after a long period of excess insulin over production. Gestational diabetes also involves insulin resistance but occurs only in the mother when she is pregnant. It can also have serious consequences for the baby and mother and is now routinely tested for in Australia.

This information sheet is mainly about type 2 diabetes.

Sleep in diabetics

People with diabetes often report poor sleep

Insufficient sleep could be a risk factor for developing diabetes

Many large studies from around the world have reporting that not getting enough sleep predicts the onset of diabetes. Almost all of these studies haven’t measured sleep properly and have not controlled for the presence or absence of sleep apnea.

Some short-term laboratory studies have shown that sleep restriction to 4 hours a night may induce a pre-diabetic state in healthy people. But it is not know whether this would turn into clinical diabetes over the long term

It may not be lack of sleep causing this. It could be that people who say they don’t sleep much when asked are spending their awake time eating too much, eating junk food, or eating at the wrong time of the day for their body to be able to process that food properly.

Eating too much may cause obesity and that can cause diabetes.

Sleep apnea and diabetes

Sleep apnea and diabetes are very often found together. When one condition is diagnosed the other could be there in 50-80% of patients.

Even in people without diabetes the presence of sleep apnea may predict diabetes developing within the next few years.

It is not yet known whether treating sleep apnea with CPAP in people without diabetes can stop them developing diabetes.

Effective weight loss programmes in people who are overweight or obese will help alleviate or avoid the development of both conditions.

If you do have both then treatment of OSA with effective therapies such as Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) may help control some of the symptoms of sleep apnea. But recent clinical trial evidence suggests that it will not control your diabetes beyond the effective medications that are specifically for diabetes. You should continue to use any medications you were prescribed by your doctor and discuss any medication changes with them.

Where can I find out more?


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