Can Lack of Sleep Lead to Diabetes?

Everything you need to know about how sleep affects diabetes.

Everybody needs enough sleep.

Our body, mind, and spirit need time to recharge, relax and unwind at the end of each day. When we don’t get enough sleep, our performance is affected the next day. Not getting enough sleep or having poor sleep habits can also contribute to the development of prediabetes and diabetes.

If you already have diabetes, sleep is important for many reasons. It can help manage blood sugar levels, keep your weight down, keep you energized and alert during the day, and boost self-confidence.

How Does Poor Sleep Affect Diabetes?

Poor sleep habits can contribute to developing prediabetes and diabetes. People who get less than six hours of sleep each night are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Poor sleep can also lead to weight gain, a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. In addition, people with diabetes who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to have problems controlling their blood sugar levels.

One study found that adults with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes who slept fewer than five hours, or longer than eight hours had higher A1C levels than those who got six to eight hours. The study also found that those who slept less than six hours had a higher BMI, making blood sugar levels harder to control.

Not getting enough sleep can halve insulin sensitivity, leading to prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. It also significantly increases the risk of hypertension, heart attack, stroke, or kidney failure.

What Are the Symptoms of Poor Sleep?

African American woman sitting in front of a computer holding her head having trouble concentrating.Not getting enough or high-quality sleep may be affecting you more than you think. Some warning signs of poor sleep include:

  • feeling irritable or depressed
  • struggling with memory loss
  • having trouble paying attention or concentrating
  • experiencing mood swings.

If too little or too much sleep is a recurring problem for you, talk to your doctor—it may be an early symptom of diabetes. However, it might also indicate that something else in your life needs attention.

Is It Dangerous To Not Get Enough Sleep?

Yes. Chronic lack of sleep increases the risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes and prediabetes. These risk factors include being overweight, being physically inactive, and having a family history of diabetes.

Lack of sleep also affects the body’s ability to control blood sugar levels. People with type 2 diabetes who don’t get enough sleep have a more challenging time controlling their blood sugar levels than those who get a healthy amount of sleep each night. In addition, people who have uncontrolled type 1 or type 2 diabetes may experience an increase in nocturnal hypoglycemia (low blood glucose that happens at night) when they do not get enough sleep.

What Are the Complications From Lack of Sleep?

  • Lack of sleep increases the risk for diabetes, obesity, and depression.
  • A lack of sleep can lead to less mental clarity and difficulty concentrating.
  • It has been found that those who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to make poor decisions and more impulsive choices.
  • Lack of sleep increases the risk of experiencing mood swings and feeling irritable or depressed.
  • Sleeping less than 7 hours a night can lead to more serious health problems such as cancer, heart disease, and obesity.
  • Sleep deprivation increases the risk of mortality by 13%. This increased risk is similar to high blood pressure or smoking, both of which are well known for increasing the risk of mortality.
  • Extended periods of no sleep can potentially be fatal.

How Does Poor Sleep Affect Blood Sugar Levels?

There are several ways that poor sleep can affect blood sugar levels. One way is by altering how the body handles glucose or sugar. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body produces more of a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol increases blood sugar levels, which can lead to prediabetes and type 2 diabetes over time.

In addition, when you’re tired, you may be less likely to take care of yourself properly. This includes making healthy food choices and being physically active. Poor sleep habits can also lead to stress and anxiety, which can also affect blood sugar levels.

Lack of Sleep and Weight Gain

Man who has gained weight from lack of sleep measuring his waist with a tape measure.Some studies indicate that chronically high cortisol levels can contribute to overeating and weight gain.

In addition, lack of sleep also disrupts the balance of the hormones leptin and ghrelin. Ghrelin signals the body to eat, while leptin signals the body to stop eating. When these hormones are out of balance, it can lead to overeating and weight gain.

How Does Diabetes Affect Sleep?

High Blood Sugar (Hyperglycemia) and Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia)

Iconograph showing a silhouette of a face with a glucose level dial showing high blood sugar.Having low or high blood glucose levels during the night can wake a person up. This means they might not get a full restful sleep cycle.

When your blood sugar levels are high, your kidneys work overtime to filter out and absorb the excess glucose in your blood. The excess glucose is then excreted into your urine, leading to dehydration as your body is flushing fluid. This leads to frequent urination. You’ll feel thirsty because of the dehydration, which will cause you to urinate even more. As a result of the cycle, it can be difficult to get enough sleep when you’re constantly waking up to use the restroom.

Conversely, if your blood sugar levels dip too low, you may experience nocturnal hypoglycemia. This occurs when your blood sugar levels fall below 70 mg/dL while sleeping. Symptoms of nocturnal hypoglycemia include:

  • Restless, irritable sleep
  • Hot, clammy, or sweaty skin
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Changes in breathing (suddenly breathing fast or slowly)
  • Nightmares, sometimes rousing the person from sleep
  • Racing heartbeat

People with diabetes are also more likely to have sleep apnea, a condition that causes people to stop breathing for short periods of time during sleep. This can interrupt a person’s sleep and make them tired the next day.

If you have diabetes, it’s important to work with your doctor to find a treatment plan that helps you get a good night’s sleep. This may include changing your medications, using a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) to track your blood sugar levels during the night, or using a CPAP machine to help with sleep apnea.

Common Sleep Disorders for People With Diabetes

Man with a sleep disorder laying awake in bed next to an alarm clock.Insomnia – difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.

Restless leg syndrome – a condition that causes an uncomfortable sensation in the legs and an irresistible urge to move them.

Sleep apnea – a condition that causes a person to stop breathing for short periods of time during sleep.

Periodic limb movement disorder – a condition that causes repetitive movements of the arms and/or legs during sleep. This can disrupt sleep and make people tired during the day.

How Can I Get a Good Night's Sleep if I Have Diabetes?

Man with diabetes asleep in bed getting a good night's sleep.You can do several things to get a good night’s sleep if you have diabetes.

  • Make sure your blood sugar levels are under control. Uncontrolled blood sugar levels can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • Avoid eating large meals before bedtime. This can cause discomfort and make it difficult to sleep.
  • Avoid drinking caffeine or alcohol before bedtime. Caffeine can keep you awake, and alcohol can disturb your sleep. Try to avoid drinking either of these 4-6 hours before bed.
  • Get regular exercise. Exercise helps you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly.
  • Follow a healthy diet. Eating healthy foods helps you feel rested and energized.
  • Establish a routine bedtime and wake time. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can set your body’s internal clock.
  • Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and cool. Avoid using electronics in the hour before bedtime, as they can interfere with sleep.
  • Use relaxation techniques to relieve stress and anxiety at night, such as meditation or yoga.
  • See a doctor if you have trouble falling or staying asleep for more than one week or are frequently tired during the day, even after getting plenty of sleep at night. A doctor can determine what’s causing your sleep problems and how to treat them.