7 Frustrating Sleep Disrupting Symptoms of Diabetes
A closer look at the sleep symptoms behind diabetes.
I see the connection between disordered sleep and diabetes all the time in my practice, as I work with patients who are coping with metabolic problems and sleep problems at the same time. Irregular sleep schedules and sleep disorders can increase risks for diabetes—and they also make managing the disease more difficult.
We’ve looked at the underlying ways that sleep contributes to diabetes—now let’s take a closer look at the specific sleep disorders that influence the condition, and the diabetes symptoms that can interfere with sleep.
The Obstructive Sleep Apnea-Diabetes connection
Before we look at the broader range of sleep issues and sleep disorders that occur with diabetes, I want to discuss the relationship between diabetes and obstructive sleep apnea. It’s an important one, because of how often the two conditions occur together. OSA is the most common sleep disorder in people with diabetes. As research has shown, a majority of people with diabetes—as many as 86 percent—also have obstructive sleep apnea. People with diabetes are at increased risk for OSA and people with OSA are at higher risk for diabetes.
The relationship between OSA and diabetes is complex, and scientists are still working to understand how the two conditions affect one another. But it’s clear that obesity plays an important role in both sleep apnea and diabetes. Being overweight or obese is a primary risk factor for both conditions. Estimates suggest approximately 70 percent of people with OSA are obese, and 90 percent of people with diabetes are overweight or obese.
Here’s a quick review of OSA: Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition characterized by periods of decreased or interrupted breathing during sleep. In people with OSA, the airway becomes partially or fully blocked, temporarily cutting off airflow. OSA is harmful to both sleep quality and sleep quantity. People with OSA experience highly fragmented and restless sleep, awakening frequently because of their compromised breathing. They spend more time in the lighter stages of sleep, and less time in deep, restorative sleep stages. And they often sleep less overall. In addition to a higher risk for type 2 diabetes, people with OSA are also at greater risk for cardiovascular problems, including high blood pressure.
Scientists have yet to determine that OSA causes diabetes. But a growing body of evidence points to OSA as one possible cause.
Research shows sleep fragmentation (aka restless or broken sleep) like that experienced by people with sleep apnea, decreases insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, and elevates levels of cortisol, a hormone that interferes with the ability of cells to use insulin effectively.