Can Sleep Affect Diabetes?

April 29,2021 |
Woman sleeping in a white bed.

Sleep is an important part of your daily routine. It gives your body time to reset and prepare for the day ahead. Sleep aids in several bodily functions, helps to cleanse your brain from byproduct that can create mental fog, and can even affect your physical appearance. As part of your nightly routine, sleep also tends to increase blood glucose levels periodically to create fluctuations that coincide with your circadian rhythm. While this isn’t problematic for most people, if you’re living with diabetes these fluctuations can be dangerous. To better understand the relationship, we’ll answer a common question: can sleep affect diabetes?

The Relationship Between Diabetes and Sleep

Sleep and blood sugar levels are directly related, which therefore makes it a complex topic for those living with diabetes. Sleep can cause fluctuations in blood sugar levels, but, at the same time, sleep is essential for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. The relationship between the two is complex, but important to understand.

Does Sleep Affect Blood Sugar?

Yes. Sleep directly affects blood sugar levels. It can both raise and lower it depending on where you are in your circadian rhythm. This is natural and not necessarily a cause for concern. The problem occurs when people begin to lose restorative sleep—when your body completes all the stages of sleep, including deep sleep and REM. Restorative sleep can help lower unhealthy blood sugar levels, which is why sleep deprivation can increase insulin resistance even further.

Why Does Sleep Affect Diabetes?

Since sleep affects blood sugar, it affects diabetes. While more research is needed, there are some factors that have been found to play a distinct role in the connection between the two. For example, cortisol is increased by sleep deprivation, which in turn increases glucose levels. Insulin sensitivity lowers and inflammation increases with sleep deprivation, which both have a direct impact on diabetes management. Due to the close intricacies between sleep and glucose levels, those living with diabetes need to prioritize getting healthy amounts of sleep to avoid increasing your risk for complications.

The ideal length of time for an individual with type 2 diabetes to sleep is around seven hours. In a long-term study conducted, those who slept significantly more, or less, than that showcased an elevated risk of dying early compared to those who slept around seven hours.

The Relationship Between Blood Sugar and Sleep Disorders

The relationship between sleep and the effect of diabetes is dynamic and often circular. While sleep affects your diabetes, diabetes can affect your overall quality of sleep. Those living with type 2 diabetes have a higher chance of developing sleep disorders, which can further complicate blood sugar problems.

Restless Legos Syndrme (RLS)

This is a sleep disorder characterized by tingling or irritating sensations in the legs which interfere with a person’s ability to fall asleep. If you’re experiencing symptoms of RLS, contact your doctor for diagnosis, as it shares many of the same symptoms as diabetic neuropathy.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

Obstructive sleep apnea is a disorder that causes a person to momentarily stop breathing throughout the night. It happens on recurring intervals and often without the knowledge of the person affected. Obstructive sleep apnea causes problems with the progression through sleep stages, which can cause issues with blood sugar. A study was conducted that found 86% of participants to have some degree of sleep apnea in addition to diabetes, so talk to your doctor if you consistently wake up feeling tired or if you snore during the night.


Insomnia is common in people living with diabetes that experience high levels of stress. It’s characterized by difficulty in falling and staying asleep. Insomnia requires more advance treatments and does not tend to respond to over-the-counter sleeping aids. Instead, you need to work with a professional to better understand what’s triggering the disorder.

9 Ways to Create Stronger Sleep Habits

One way to help manage your diabetes and ensure that you’re getting enough restorative sleep is to create stronger sleep habits. Since too little sleep can wreak havoc on your body due to excess cortisol and fluctuations in blood sugar levels and too much sleep is also dangerous, finding the right balance is one of the best things you can do for your overall health. Here are 9 ways to create stronger sleep habits that you can start implementing tonight.

  1. Turn off Electronics

    The blue light in electronic devices has been shown to disrupt your body’s natural circadian rhythm. Your brain responds similarly to how it does in sunshine, which can wake you up and cause difficulty when trying to fall into a deep sleep. To wind down, keep the phones and televisions out of the bedroom and switch to reading a book before bed instead.

  2. Cut Back on Booze

    While many people believe that alcohol helps you sleep, that couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, alcohol may make you fall asleep faster, but it diminishes your brain’s ability to reach REM sleep—the sleep phase that gives you restorative benefits that make you feel refreshed each morning. Alcohol also increases sleep disturbances.

  3. Eliminate Distractions

    If you sleep with your phone in your room, turn it on silent. Even the smallest noises can cause your body to jump from deep, REM sleep to light sleep, which isn’t what your body needs. If you have loud neighbors or live in a noisy area, consider sleeping with earplugs or get a white noise machine.

  4. Utilize White Noise

    Not only does a white noise machine help to drown out the outside world, but the sound also produces a lulling effect that can help you drift to sleep faster. There are hundreds of different white noise machines available, or you can take advantage of a loud fan or playlists on popular streaming platforms.

  5. Avoid Stimulants

    Stimulants such as coffee, caffeinate beverages, or other sports drinks can cause a disruption to your melatonin production. To make sure that you’re able to fall asleep quickly, and stay asleep, avoid stimulants. You should also try to avoid exercising too late, as the endorphins can lead to increased blood flow and difficulty falling asleep.

  6. Get Enough Exercise

    With that being said, exercising early morning or in the afternoon can help reduce cortisol levels and improve your quality of sleep. Try exercising before work or on your lunch break. If that’s not possible, hitting the gym immediately after work should be fine if you have a few hours from the end of your workout until it’s time to go to sleep.

  7. De-Stress and Relax

    Cortisol levels cause problems with sleeping patterns, quality of sleep, and the rate at which you’re able to fall asleep and stay asleep. If you’re stressed, try to find a way to relax and better manage what’s on your plate. Meditation, exercise, yoga, or even a good talk with your loved one can help to reduce cortisol levels.

  8. Obstruct Light Sources

    Did you know that even the smallest presence of light sources can cause sleep disruptions? By obstructing any light, you’ll be able to fall asleep faster, get higher quality sleep, and capitalize on your body’s natural sleep cycle. Try investing in some blackout curtains and a low-light or lightless alarm clock.

  9. Maintain a Regular Bedtime

One of the biggest problems is that people don’t allow themselves enough time to sleep. They assume that if they “go to bed” at 10:00 pm and they wake up at 5:00 am, they’ll get seven hours. It usually takes you a little to get into bed, get comfortable, and fall asleep. If you wake up during the night, that seven hours is quickly shortened. Make time for sleep and try to maintain a regular bedtime to help your body’s natural circadian rhythm function its best.

People also tend to assume that other tasks are more important and therefore don’t prioritize sleep. However, sleep is more important. During a night’s rest, your brain is reset, your body function is optimized, and you wake up ready to tackle the day. The seriousness of sleep importance is obvious when you learn that 24 hours without sleep leads to the same impaired judgement as someone who is legally drunk. To make sure that you’re managing your diabetes and leading a healthy lifestyle, make time for sleep, be proactive with complications, and address any sleep disorders you may have. For more help in ongoing diabetes management, contact Byram Healthcare today. We have a variety of products aimed to make your decisions about diabetes management easy, straightforward, and convenient.