How Are Sleep Apnea and Type 2 Diabetes Connected?

May 09,2022 |
Women sleeping with her CPAP machine.

Close to 30 million Americans are currently living with diabetes, which is the 7th leading cause of death in the country. While there are several factors that contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes, sleep is often overlooked as a causal link. However, getting an adequate amount of sleep each night is essential for optimal functioning of all your organs, cells, and mental processing. To better understand the effect of sleep deprivation on new diagnoses, we’ll explore how sleep apnea and type 2 diabetes are connected.


What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a serious sleeping disorder that affects millions of people across the world. Individuals who suffer from sleep apnea will periodically stop breathing throughout the night, causing them to wake up, snore, and drastically reduce the quality of sleep they receive. It can either be obstructive or caused by a lack of brain signal to the muscles. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most commonly occurring type and is caused by either a partial or complete upper airway blockage. This means that your diaphragm and chest muscles need to exert added pressure in order to open the airway, which can result in a body jerk, snore, or loud gasp. Obstructive sleep apnea reduces the flow of oxygen to your body and can lead to problems with your heart. In central sleep apnea, the airways are open, but signals fail to communicate between the brain and the muscles necessary for breathing. This is related to the overall function and health of the central nervous system.

The Importance of Sleep

While many people see sleeping disorders as a mere inconvenience, they have a huge impact on how your body functions. Sleep is vital to your health and wellbeing. It’s necessary to fuel every cell, organ, and system within your body. In fact, sleep is the most important time for your body to rest and repair damage or stress incurred throughout each day. Your brain processes memories, your blood stream clears out toxins, your muscles are repaired, and your heart rate and blood pressure are reduced. This gives your body the chance to reset and prepare for another day. Both sleep deprivation and oversleeping can disrupt this balance and cause issues in various systems and bodily functions.

While individuals vary in the amount of sleep they need, most adults benefit from an average of seven to seven and a half hours each night. Studies have shown that sleeping fewer than five hours or longer than eight hours can increase A1C levels and BMI, both of which make blood sugar control more difficult.


Important Information About Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition that occurs when your body stops responding to insulin or develops a resistance to its effects. This resistance is often caused by a combination of unhealthy lifestyle habits and genetics. Unlike type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes is not an autoimmune disorder and tends to develop later in an individual’s life. While there is no cure, type 2 diabetes can be managed with diet, exercise, and insulin use. Individuals with prediabetes can also reverse or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes with the proper care. If you have type 2 diabetes, you need to pay attention to what you eat and get an adequate amount of exercise throughout the week. These healthy lifestyle habits make management easier and more effective. However, one commonly overlooked aspect of diabetes management is sleep.

Improving Your Sleep with Type 2 Diabetes

If you’ve been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, it’s important to prioritize a healthy sleep schedule. Doing so can reduce your risk of other complications and strengthen your diabetes management plan. When you don’t get enough sleep, self-care suffers, and your risk of diabetes-related complications increases. Some great ways to improve your sleep include keeping a consistent bed- and wake time, exercising regularly, minimizing light sources in your room, turning off your electronics an hour before getting into bed, avoiding caffeine at least eight hours before bed, eating a light meal, and finding a habit that helps you wind down like taking a warm bath or reading.

Taking the proper precautionary measures to improve your sleeping habits with type 2 diabetes is important, but if you have a sleeping disorder, you’ll need to do more than the above. Getting the proper diagnosis and treatment is the only way to ensure you don’t experience complications related to both conditions.


The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Type 2 Diabetes

One sleeping disorder that’s particularly problematic for individuals with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes is sleep apnea. Since every system in the human body is interconnected, it’s understandable that issues or problems in one system can create issues in another. Some studies show that about 71% of people with type 2 diabetes may have sleep apnea, indicating a strong connection between the two. Here, we’ll take a closer look at the link between type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea.

The Effects of Sleep on Insulin Resistance

When you sleep, your body is under less stress to react to external stimuli. Instead, it’s busy processing physical activity, emotions, and thoughts. This, in turn, leads to a lower heart rate, reduction in blood pressure, and a stronger control of hormone regulation. Since insulin is a hormone, sleep disruptions can lead to problems with overall insulin resistance. A lack of sleep can decrease your body’s ability to transport glucose from your bloodstream into your cells, thus raising your blood sugar levels and causing problems with diabetes management. If you’re diligent about your daily type 2 diabetes care, but can’t keep your blood glucose levels under control, try making some changes to your sleeping schedule. If you’re still having difficulty, see your doctor to undergo testing for sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can be hard to self-diagnose, but it can severely diminish the length and quality of sleep you receive each night thus increasing the problem of insulin resistance.

The Effects of Blood Sugar on Sleep

Sleep deprivation caused by sleep apnea can also impact diabetes management when you’re awake. It causes an increase in cognitive impairment which can decrease the ability to make healthy choices throughout the day. Sleep deprivation is also associated with an increase in caloric consumption, which can increase your risk of obesity and worsen diabetes symptoms or management. Unhealthy decisions during the day creates unstable blood sugar and can affect your quality of sleep throughout the night. High blood glucose levels increase your need to urinate, so you’ll need to wake up more often throughout the night to use the bathroom. Conversely, low blood glucose levels at night (nocturnal hypoglycemia) leads to restless sleep, nightmares, and night sweats. This makes it no surprise that about 77% of older adults with diabetes report experiencing some degree of sleeping problems.

The Effects of Sleep on Healthy Lifestyles

During episodes of sleep apnea, your breathing is momentarily disrupted. This pause leads to an increase in carbon dioxide in your blood, which in turn affects various other systems. For one, it causes strain on your heart, which can increase your risk of heart disease or stroke. It can also affect your body’s hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin. Leptin helps your body control its appetite while ghrelin stimulates hunger. Sleep deprivation can decrease leptin levels and increase ghrelin, thus resulting in overeating and unhealthy decisions in regard to food. In fact, people who are sleep deprived tend to consume an extra 385 calories per day compared with those who got a good night’s sleep. This can lead to weight gain, which further complicates diabetes management.

While individuals vary in the amount of sleep they need, most adults benefit from an average of seven to seven and a half hours each night. Studies have shown that sleeping fewer than five hours or longer than eight hours can increase A1C levels and BMI, both of which make blood sugar control more difficult.


When to See Your Doctor

Unfortunately, despite a strong connection between sleep apnea and diabetes, many researchers are still unsure if one condition causes the other or vice versa. Whether sleep apnea causes type 2 diabetes or both disorders are influenced by an underlying condition is unclear, but both conditions share similar risk factors. To reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, see your doctor at the first sign of a sleeping problem. If you’re constantly fatigued, your partner complains about your snoring, or you’re just not feeling like yourself, see your doctor to undergo a sleep analysis.


About Byram Healthcare and Apria

Since 1968, Byram Healthcare has been helping to improve health outcomes and affordability of care for people managing their chronic conditions at homeFor those living with type 2 diabetes, we have a range of continuous blood glucose monitors. We also offer diabetes support and educational materials to give you everything you need for comprehensive care. If you’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea, Apria offers a comprehensive range of products and services for respiratory therapy and obstructive sleep apnea treatment. Apria is part of the Byram Healthcare family.