The Importance of Sleep Health for Diabetes

Diabetes

Everyone who lives with diabetes knows that the cornerstones of successful management include insulin therapy, strict monitoring of one’s diet, exercise, and managing stress. But another, lesser-known key element to good diabetes management is sleep health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 1 in 3 Americans don’t get enough sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults between 18 and 60 sleep at least 7 hours every night. Sleeping less than that is associated with an increased risk of developing chronic conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and even stroke.

Sleep health is especially important for people with diabetes. This article will outline the reasons why sleep health is so important and how you can improve your sleep health to improve your diabetes management.

Why Is Sleep Important?

Sleep is important for everyone. Sleep plays an important role not only in physical health but in mental health maintenance as well. During sleep, the body heals and repairs cells damaged during the day (like muscles worked and stretched during exercise), and even restores and clears out both heart and blood vessels, reducing inflammation throughout the body.

Sleep brings much-needed balance back to hormone levels, such as cortisol, serotonin, leptin, ghrelin, melatonin, and adrenaline, working to restore mental and emotional health. Restoration of these key hormones helps the body control stress, combat depression, achieve satiety, and manage hunger levels throughout the day.

Most importantly, sleep helps protect immune function. One study monitored the development of the common cold after giving people nasal drops with the virus to a group of people. The researchers discovered that those who sleep fewer than 7 hours for two weeks were nearly 3 times more likely to develop a cold than those in the study who slept 8 or more hours each night for the duration of the study.

Americans Are Not Getting Enough Sleep

This is all great, except Americans are simply not getting enough sleep. City-dwellers are more likely than those living in rural areas to suffer from sleep deprivation, and the CDC shows that the northeastern and Appalachian mountain parts of the country are the most affected. Nearly 11 percent of Americans are only getting 6 or fewer hours of sleep per night!

There are many reasons why people aren’t getting enough sleep: 24/7 technology, ever-increasing workloads, light and noise pollution in cities, the but most stunning reason, from the National Sleep Foundation, is that Americans simply don’t prioritize sleep.

In a survey, when Americans were asked which of five activities were most important to them, just 10% of people said sleep, the lowest by far out of exercise, nutrition, work, and other hobbies.

As a nation we are not getting enough sleep,” said Dr. Wayne Giles, director of CDC’s Division of Population Health. “Lifestyle changes such as going to bed at the same time each night; rising at the same time each morning; and turning off or removing televisions, computers, mobile devices from the bedroom, can help people get the healthy sleep they need.”

People With Diabetes Need to Prioritize Sleep!

Even though sleep is often disrupted because of diabetes due to CGM alarms, insulin pumps beeping, low and high blood sugars, and the 24/7 nature of the disease, sleep is crucial for good diabetes management.

“Getting inadequate amounts of sleep can negatively impact blood sugar levels short and long term,” says Dr. Gregg Faiman, an endocrinologist at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. “In fact, sleep is as essential to your health as nutrition and exercise,” he says.

Not having enough of it can cause insulin resistance and insatiable hunger due to out of balance hormones, fatigue that makes exercising more difficult, and brain fog that makes carbohydrate counting and the self-control to properly manage food and diet harder.

Sleep affects all other elements of diabetes management: when you don’t have enough sleep, you need more insulin (due to insulin resistance from spiked cortisol levels) to control blood sugars, your body is hungrier when your hormonal leptin levels are off balance, which makes eating and balancing carbohydrates more complex, you’re more tired which makes exercise all the more difficult, and your body is naturally stressed out, wreaking havoc on diabetes management.

Plus, if you nap during the day to try and make up for a bad night’s rest, you may not be tired at bedtime, and one sleepless night can lead to two, which can then turn into a chronic problem, which sets the stage for harder to control blood sugars, higher HbA1c, and possibly even complications later on in life.

how to get enough sleep

Photo credit: iStock

Strategies to Improve Sleep Health

Creating good sleep habits can take time, but the following recommendations can help you improve your sleep, which will positively affect not only your diabetes management but your overall health as well:

  • Exercise daily so you are tired at bedtime
  • Avoid all caffeine after 12 p.m.
  • Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day
  • Do not nap during the day
  • Use the bathroom right before bed, so you don’t wake up in the middle of the night to go
  • Limit fluids before bed
  • Make sure your blood sugar isn’t too high or low at bedtime
  • Turn your thermostat down at bedtime for more peaceful sleep
  • Take a relaxing bath before bed
  • Eat foods that contain natural melatonin at night: cherries, pomegranate, grapes, walnuts, peanuts, or sunflower seeds work well
  • Do some gentle yoga, meditation, or breathing exercises to calm you down before bed
  • Do not allow screens in the bedroom; opt for journaling or reading in bed instead (except, of course, your continuous glucose monitor and insulin pump)
  • Close all curtains and make your room as dark as possible
  • Keep pets outside of the bedroom, and especially off the bed (except diabetes alert dogs, of course).

Managing sleep can be complex and challenging, but making sure to get at least 7 hours of quality sleep per night will make diabetes management easier and better blood sugars more achievable.

Try out these tactics for several weeks, and see if any make a meaningful difference in the amount of quality sleep you’re getting each night, and if it has any positive effects on blood sugar levels the next day.

While an underrated component of diabetes health, sleep is crucial for better blood sugar management, one night at a time. Do you struggle with getting an adequate amount of quality sleep each night? What tactics have helped you improve your sleep health? Share this post and comment below!

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