Losing sleep over diabetes

In the busyness of life, many of us sacrifice sleep to accomplish tasks. Sleep is often the first thing we cut out when there just don’t seem to be enough hours in our day. According to Leigh Ann Brooks, RN, BSN, RD, CD, CDE, nursing services operational lead, Diabetes Education Center, people with diabetes might also experience a loss of sleep as a result of unbalanced blood sugar.

Restless nights

Overnight, hypoglycemia can cause a person to lose sleep. If the blood sugar drops less than 70 mg/dL, the individual may awake to a vivid dream or night sweats. They might need to get up in the night and eat to treat their low blood sugar and resolve the symptoms.

Hyperglycemia may disrupt sleep as well. When the blood sugar rises above 180 mg/dL, the body will spill the excess sugar into the urine to be excreted, resulting in frequent urination. If this occurs overnight, it could cause the individual to wake up frequently to use the restroom.

Sleep apnea

In 2009, a study published in the Diabetes Care journal noted that 86 percent of individuals with diabetes also experienced sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is when a person repeatedly pauses their breathing during sleep. These pauses in breathing can last a few seconds or several minutes, and certainly disrupt the individual’s sleep. People affected by this condition are often tired throughout the day and fall asleep easily. If you are concerned you might have sleep apnea, take a screening quiz.

Restless leg syndrome

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) may also impede the sleep of those with diabetes. RLS is characterized by the uncontrollable urge to move the legs before falling asleep. High blood sugar levels can be one of the underlying causes of RLS. In addition, many of the individuals affected by RLS may also have underlying neuropathy or nerve damage in their legs as a complication of elevated sugars over time. Restless, painful legs make peaceful sleep difficult to achieve.

Sleeping soundly

So just how much sleep should we get? The amount of sleep needed can vary among individuals, however, on average adults need 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. Here are some helpful tips for getting restful, restorative sleep:

  • Avoid alcohol or stimulants too close to bedtime.
  • Test your blood sugar and make sure you have had a snack with carbohydrates and protein that will prevent hypoglycemia overnight. Following your meal plan and controlling your sugars throughout the day will help to keep blood sugars stable.
  • Dim the lights 1 hour before bed. Dimming the lights will help your brain and body start winding down.
  • Avoid looking at screens. Put away your phone, tablet, computer and TV and power down. These devices emit light that can keep you alert and awake.
  • Engage in relaxing activities outside your bedroom. Reading is a great screen-free way to wind down.
  • Ten minutes before bed, try focusing on a mindfulness activity or meditation.


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