Lack of Sleep and Diabetes: What’s the Link?

Sleep Apnea Insomnia Sleep Deprivations Disorders Sleepless Concept

Do you remember a time when you were really stressed out (because of school, work or otherwise) and ended up having prolonged sleep deprivation? I sure do! I remember having to go to school at night and work in the day, and that put me under real pressure. And guess what I did on those nights when I had to burn the midnight oil?

I ate!

I was literally always looking for the next carbohydrate-rich treasure to stuff my face with, just so I could stay awake. If I knew then what I knew now, I sure as heck wouldn’t have done that! You see, as it turns out there’s a very interesting link between lack of sleep and diabetes, particularly type-2 diabetes.

Do you have diabetes or are you pre-diabetic? How well have you been sleeping, and if you haven’t been very rested as of late, have you been speaking to your physician about it? You may be surprised to know that there have been many scientific studies linking sleep deprivation with diabetes. We’ll get more into that as you read on!

What Is Diabetes Anyway?

Diabetes is known as a lifestyle disease though your actual lifestyle may not be the only cause of the diabetes. Easily diagnosed through a routine blood test that checks the glucose levels in the blood, diabetes is a disease that can rarely be cured, but can be efficiently managed with the right treatment that may include insulin injections or oral drugs, exercise and diet. All three are of equal importance.

Insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas that regulates how your body uses glucose. Think of it as the sugar police, when there’s a lot of sugar floating around, more insulin is produced to help your cells absorb it. Diabetes occurs under two primary conditions, both of which result in high blood sugar:

  1. When there is little or no insulin to promote uptake of the glucose floating in the blood, and…
  2. When you’ve developed a resistance to insulin (that is, your cells are no longer able to absorb glucose from your blood effectively)

As a result, you are likely to have high blood glucose levels and you will feel chronically tired, lose weight despite eating more, have skin problems and other symptoms. A family history of diabetes, obesity, low HDL (good cholesterol) levels may also increase your risk of developing diabetes. And unmanaged or uncontrolled diabetes can lead to stroke, heart attack and as also damage the eyes, kidneys, nerves and result in various neuropathies.

To wrap up this section, there are 2 major types of diabetes, and one which is known to occur specifically in the case of pregnancy:

  • Type 1 diabetes – this is when the body does not make insulin at all.
  • Type 2 diabetes – this is when the insulin that is made by the pancreas is not enough or the individual has developed insulin resistance.
  • Gestational diabetes – this usually occurs in pregnant women and needs careful monitoring so that the pregnancy is not affected. It

We are particularly interested in Type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes particularly because of how those conditions may evolve if they’re not managed well. While the treatment for the former is usually carried out via oral medicines that increase insulin production, after some time there is a possibility that Type 2 diabetes can progress to Type 1 diabetes (in that case you’d have to take insulin via injections). Gestational diabetes may be temporary and could disappear after delivery. Scientific studies have shown that when pregnant women get less than six hours of sleep, they are at 1.7 times greater risk of developing gestational diabetes. What’s more while the diabetes may resolve after delivery, there remains an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes at some point.

Are you scared yet? Diabetes can affect all aspects of your health and, if it is not well managed, can lead to severe and chronic health problems. It may even be fatal! With more than 400 million people suffering from diabetes, it is all the more important to learn all you can about this disease, and how you can keep yourself healthy.

Fine, But What does Diabetes Have To Do With Sleep Deprivation?

According to a recent study disturbed sleep, difficulty in falling asleep and staying asleep and even sleep apnea may increase the risk of diabetes.  Another study found that people who have diabetes have higher glucose levels in the morning and have higher insulin resistance, worsening their diabetes and putting them at increased risk of related complications. Other problems associated with unmanaged diabetes are:

  • When your sugar levels are not well controlled, you may be peeing more at night, leading to dehydration. Every time you get up to pee, your sleep rhythm is disturbed and you may find it difficult to go back to sleep.
  • When you don’t sleep well, you are more tired and groggy during the day and may eat more or eat more of the wrong foods (comfort foods, fatty foods, sweets), again worsening your diabetes.
  • High blood sugar levels can lead your feeling irritable or restless, again impacting your sleep.
  • When you have sleep apnea it leads to disturbed sleep as you wake up repeatedly to breathe. This can be caused partly by breathing problems, or simple weight gain/obesity. The body is actually under stress due to lack of oxygen and this can provoke the release of glucose into the blood. Over time, it s possible for the affected individual to become insulin resistant.

Interestingly enough, a study done by the University of Toronto discovered that patients with severe OSA (apnea-hypopnea index > 30) were almost 30% more likely to develop type-2 diabetes than those without OSA. Though the demographic was primarily Canadian, the results were statistically significant, and definitely pointed to the need for early interventions for such cases. Do recall that there are some long-term complications to type-2 diabetes, a few of the most notable being cardiovascular and renal problems, as well as nerve, eye, and foot damage. Your risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease also increases, though doctors have yet to fully identify why this happens. One of the theories at this point which stands out is the fact that high blood sugar may also cause inflammation. This inflammation can potentially damage brain cells, and since this is a slow degenerative process, may contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s.

How Do I Know What’s Wrong And What Can I Do?

Here are a few early indicators that there’s something off about your sleep:

  • You’ve got a bed partner who keeps complaining that your snoring is way out of hand (and even if you’re not bed sharing, you’re loud enough to be heard through a wall or closed door).
  • You waking up several times in the night feeling as though you’re struggling to breathe, or your partner tells you that you stop breathing completely sometimes.
  • You have high blood pressure.
  • You’re always tired during the day, and have difficulty staying awake.

If you’ve got a combination of the above, then it may be a great time to see your doctor, possibly about a sleep study. In some cases you may even be able to do this at home! Either way there are likely to be a few imperatives that come out of your medical investigations. You may need to make some lifestyle changes (diet and exercise being of great import), alter your sleep hygiene, consider CPAP and/or oral devices, or perhaps even surgery. Ultimately, it’s best to begin with the end in mind. Having great sleep can only benefit you in the long run (and if you’ve got a partner, they’ll benefit too!).

What is important to keep in mind is that it not just the quantity of sleep that is important, but also its quality. When you have restful sleep, your nervous and hormonal systems are more likely to perform as they should, which can make you feel great! When you have broken sleep however, these systems may malfunction, throwing your blood pressure off kilter and reducing your ability to manage your your blood sugar. Naturally this comes with a host of other problems, such as heart and blood vessel issues which we’ve briefly spoken about. Don’t let lack of sleep increase your risk of developing diabetes! It is within your power to do what is necessary to reduce your risk of developing this disease!

What are your thoughts on this article? If you’ve got an opinion, please feel free to share it below!



  1. robert korngut

    there are changes in hormones other than insulin that occur with sleep apnea and inadequate restorative sleep. Leptin and Ghrelin regulate appetite an make it difficult to resist food cravings.

    1. Joshua (Post author)

      Thanks for the insight Robert. Inability to control food cravings during chronic sleep deprivation definitely contributes to uncontrolled weight gain.


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