There are complex cause and effect relationships between sleep and diabetes. Poor sleep is considered a risk factor for diabetes, while diabetes is considered a contributor to poor sleep.
Sleep disorders such as insomnia, excessive snoring and obstructive sleep apnea are more common in people with type 2 diabetes. As a result, many diabetics don’t sleep as well as people without the disease.
Recently, researchers conducting a study titled Cross-Sectional Associations Between Measure Of Sleep And Markers Of Glucose Metabolism Among Persons With And Without Diabetes” monitored the sleep patterns of 40 type 2 diabetics over six nights. They were first interviewed about their normal sleeping patterns, and blood samples were taken to measure their glucose and insulin levels.
Participants wore activity monitors on their wrists to measure their movements through the night. A poor sleep was defined by both the data from the wrist monitors, and the patient’s description of how long it took them to fall asleep and how many times they woke up through the night.
The poor sleepers had significantly higher blood glucose levels in the morning – 23 percent higher than those who got a restful sleep. Even more striking, their blood insulin levels were 48 percent higher. The researchers crunched the two numbers to calculate that poor sleepers with diabetes had 82% higher insulin resistance than diabetics who were able to get a good sleep.
“Poor sleep quality in people with diabetes was associated with worse control of their blood sugar levels,” said the study’s lead author, Kristen Knutson, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine, “people who have a hard time controlling their blood glucose levels have a higher risk of complications. They have a reduced quality of life. And they have a reduced life expectancy.”
The logical next step, according to the researchers, is to see if improving the quality of sleep in diabetics can help them lower insulin resistance give them better long term diabetes control and improve their quality of life.
“This suggests that improving sleep quality in diabetics would have a similar beneficial effect as the most commonly used anti- diabetes drugs,” said Eve Van Cauter, PhD, professor of medicine and co-author of the study, which was recently published in Diabetes Care.
The researchers also want to solve the “chicken and egg” aspect of chronic poor sleep and chronic insulin resistance, and determine which leads to the other. In the meantime, they’re suggesting that diabetics with insomnia add sleep treatment to their diabetes medication.