The link between sleep and diabetes
Type-2 diabetes is a disease that is primarily caused when your body becomes unable to breakdown blood sugar (glucose). This usually happens when your body is either unable to produce enough insulin or become resistant to its effects; as a result, your cells will become deprived of glucose, your body’s primary fuel source, and you will quickly become fatigued and suffer from a number unpleasant symptoms.
In most circumstances, type-2 diabetes is linked to factors such as obesity, poor diet, age and genetics but more recently, research is starting to shine a light on another potential factor that might contribute to the disease’s development – poor sleep.
In 2007, researchers at the University of Chicago found that the suppression of slow wave sleep in young adults decreased their ability to regulate their blood sugar levels, with three consecutive nights of poor sleep carrying the same increase risk as gaining 20-30 pounds in weight!1 The Boston University of Medicine elaborated on this, finding that people who slept less than 6 hours were more susceptible to blood sugar complications compared to those getting 8 or more hours of sleep.2
Why is this case though? How can something like sleep deprivation influence your insulin levels?
Well, there are two primary ways that sleep can affect your chances of developing diabetes. The first I’ve already discussed before in my blog, ‘Is your lack of sleep making you overeat?’ Basically, poor sleep can increase your levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates hunger cravings, whilst lowering your body’s natural appetite suppressor, leptin.
The result is that you wake up craving sugary, carbohydrate heavy foods, making you eat more through the day. In fact, it’s estimated that those who don’t get enough sleep can consume up to 300 extra calories a day and all this extra eating will affect your blood sugar levels and, eventually, your waistline, making you more predisposed to type-2 diabetes.
Sleep deprivation also causes less insulin to be released after you consume food, meaning that your blood sugar isn’t being broken down as efficiently, not to mention, your body will start to release more cortisol, a stress hormone, which will then go on to negatively impact your sleep patterns.3
Who’s at risk?
If you’re suffering from poor sleep and trying to keep an eye on your blood sugar levels, it can feel a lot like you’re stuck in a vicious cycle, with poor sleep stimulating high blood sugar and high blood sugar subsequently causing poor sleep. However, some people are more at risk of being exposed to this cycle than others for a variety of surprising reasons.
Post-menopausal women: According to recent research, post-menopausal women are considered to be more at risk of developing type-2 diabetes, particularly if they still suffer from hot flushes and night sweats. In fact, night sweats were linked to a 20% increased risk of diabetes!4 This is possibly because night sweats are renowned for disrupting your sleep, waking you up frequently during the night as well as increasing your susceptibility to insomnia.
Sleep apnoea patients: Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) affects around 1.5 million in the UK and is characterised by an obstruction in your upper airways. This can cause you to wake up multiple times during the night and stimulate symptoms such as loud snoring. In my blog ‘Can sleep apnoea cause you to gain weight?’ I discuss some of the potential health ramifications of OSA, particularly its relationship to obesity, which in turn is sometimes a primary trigger of the disorder, as well as being a leading cause of diabetes.
Sufferers of stress: As I mentioned earlier, sleep deprivation can cause your body to release more cortisol, which in turn can affect issues such as night sweats, hot flushes and your diet. Stress activates your sympathetic nervous system, pushing you into a fight-or-flight mode, where your body assumes that your life is being threatening. As a result, your nervous system will keep you awake and alert, making it not only difficult for you to fall asleep but also difficult for you to enter NREM deep sleep.
Poor diet: Having a poor diet is a lead cause of diabetes, but it can also affect other factors such as sleep deprivation, stress and hot flushes. Consuming excessive amounts of sugary foods and caffeinated beverages will affect your sleep patterns, fuelling that vicious cycle of not sleeping and overeating, not to mention that such foods can also contribute towards stress and even trigger flushes!
4Gray KE et al. Menopause December 6, 2017 dol: 10.1097/GME.0000000000001033
How can you reduce the risk?
The good news is that the effects of a short period of sleep deprivation can be reversed; in fact your insulin levels can improve after just two nights of full sleep. However, sleep deprivation can be a tough issue to tackle which is why I’ve devised a few tips and solutions to help you get a better night’s rest.
1 – Practice good sleep hygiene
Sleep hygiene and the routine you practice before bed can have a huge impact on how you sleep, which is why I’d recommend checking out my top sleep hygiene tips. It’s important you consider creating a comfortable environment to fall asleep in that’s free of distractions – don’t bring your work into your bedroom and try to reduce your usage of devices such as smartphones and tablets before bedtime.
Make sure your bedroom isn’t too hot and that your mattress isn’t causing you any discomfort. If you continue to experience problems getting to sleep, it might be worth trying our gentle sleep remedy Dormeasan. Prepared using a delicate blend of Valerian and Hops, it’s non-drowsy and, if taken approximately 30minutes – 1 hour before bed it can help you to drift off into a deep, natural sleep.
2 - Eat to improve your sleep
It’s no secret that what you eat affects your chances of developing diabetes as well as your sleep patterns, so getting your diet in order should be a priority. Start by reducing your intake of refined sugar and processed carbohydrates and instead focus on sleep-boosting foods – for more information check out my ‘Top 5 foods to help you get a good night sleep!’ It’s also important that you consider what you are eating before you go to bed – the wrong snacks can make a big difference.
It’s also vital that you keep yourself hydrated. When your blood sugar levels are high, your kidneys will be working overtime to try and remove any excess from your body, which, alongside making you need to visit the loo a bit more, might cause some dehydration. Instead of pouring yourself a cup of coffee when fatigue strikes, you’d be better off reaching for a bottle of water!
3 – Fight the flushes
Post-menopausal and menopausal hot flushes are a major cause of sleep disruption so it’s important to try and tackle the issue directly. You could start by trying to identify which foods could be causing your flushes – spicy foods, salty foods and caffeinated drinks are the usual prime suspects. Again, it’s also important to stay hydrated – if you are sweating, you will be losing fluids which can put you at risk of becoming dehydrated.
It might also be worth trying a natural remedy like our Menoforce Sage Tablets, which are traditionally used to combat menopausal sweats and flushes. If you are post-menopausal, a variety of issues could be causing your sweats, from stress to certain medications so it might be worth speaking to your GP to identify the underlying cause.
4 – Keep active
Keeping active and staying fit is an amazing way of combatting so many problems, including stress, sleep deprivation and night sweats. Multiple studies have revealed that aerobic exercise is capable of reducing anxiety and depression, which can go a long way towards boosting your mood.5 It’s also thought that a little moderate exercise could even help to diminish hot flushes by improving temperature control!
If this wasn’t enough, it’s also thought that exercise may help with sleep conditions such as insomnia.6 Not bad! However, if you’re new to exercising, it can be a little intimidating to start with, which is why I’d recommend checking out our get active section on the website, which contains tons of tips and advice as well as super easy exercise videos!
5 - Beat stress
I’ve mentioned stress is almost every point on this list, however, its impact on your mental and physical wellbeing really cannot be underestimated. While I’d always recommend trying to tackle the source of your stress directly, sometimes it isn’t always that simple.
Whether it’s work, family or other commitments, most of us barely get an hour each day to ourselves, which is a real problem as you need time to take a breath and relax. Try to set aside a part of your day to focus on yourself and avoid toxic habits that might be fuelling negative emotions, such as poor eating habits and isolating yourself from the rest of the world.
Mindfulness is one stress-busting trend that has really taken off, so it might be worth looking into the practice. Gentle forms of exercise like yoga and tai chi also teach deep breathing techniques that help you to soothe yourself in times of tension or anxiety. The best thing you can really do, though, is to be kind to yourself.