Woman lying awake in bed

Having diabetes doesn’t mean that a person will definitively end up with a sleep condition, but it does increase their risk of having disrupted sleep. You know — all those extra trips to the bathroom, the bleeping and beeping of equipment, hunger and thirst — not to mention low blood sugar needs, too. 

Diabetes is a round-the-clock condition — it doesn’t turn off at night. So, let’s take a look at the mechanics of sleep, common sleep-related issues, and review some evidence-based tips to improve yours.

What’s a sleep disorder?

Sleep issues — also known as sleep disorders, insomnia, restless or broken sleep, or sleep deprivation — can all be bothersome, common problems when living with diabetes. In general, anything that regularly disrupts your sleep, or sleep habits, can have negative impacts on your health. 

You may have a sleep disorder if: You’re having difficulties with falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much. Each person can be affected differently from these conditions.

If you’re experiencing a sleep issue, you already know that it can be a big disruptor, causing next-day fatigue, and increased cortisol levels that can raise blood sugars and insulin needs.

There’s a plethora of reasons (besides diabetes) for disrupted sleep, including environmental issues, diet, mental health conditions, stress, hormones, work schedules, and others. But, research does suggest a link between diabetes and disrupted sleep. And, the risks associated with it are real. Having sleep issues 3 out of 7 nights a week increases an individual’s chances of developing other conditions, such as:

  • Heart attack

  • Stoke

  • Coronary artery disease

  • Obesity

Causes of interrupted sleep related to diabetes

If your diabetes tech is keeping you, or your family, awake (ugh, I hear you), try the following and be sure to ask your healthcare provider for advice, too.

  • If you wear a pump and a CGM, put them on the same side of your body for sleep, this can help to decrease signal loss between the two.

  • Sensor placement matters. You don’t want to put pressure on it while sleeping. This can result in faulty numbers and beeping from signal loss.

  • Be proactive by checking insulin levels in your pump, refilling in the middle of the night isn’t fun — and this can cause high blood sugars, which is another sleep disruptor. Adjust the low-insulin alarm to fit your needs. For example, do you need to be awoken by a 60-units left alarm, or not?

  • Know when your CGM’s sensor is set to expire. These alerts don’t need to wake you up if you schedule them well. 

  • If you have a system that needs charging, like a Tandem pump, keep your eye on the battery to avoid alarm awakening.

High blood sugars cause increased thirst and urination. Your body wants to get the extra sugar out, so this is annoying, but expected. High blood sugars can be minimized with a good treatment plan.

Low blood sugars are a cause of restless sleep from an increased sympathetic nervous system response. They’re also an annoyance because you need to get up and eat. But, midnight picnics can be avoided. 

Your healthcare provider can look at your glucometer, CGM, and pump data to help you make positive changes. If you’re in a rut, and you have a pattern going on, that’s okay, patterns are easy to identify — and fix!

Common medical issues related to interrupted sleep

You may be surprised to know that diabetes has related sleep-disrupting conditions: obstructive sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome. If you’re having any symptoms, the first step is to see your healthcare provider. They’ll help to rule out any medical causes of your disrupted sleep. 

Treatment for these conditions will depend on the severity of your symptoms. If you have signs of sleep apnea, your provider may order a sleep study. This may be followed by treatment with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. If you have restless leg syndrome, they may prescribe medications to help improve your symptoms.

What happens if you don’t treat sleep apnea? Untreated sleep apnea can cause fatigue, increases in weight, and the risk of developing cardiovascular issues — like heart attack, stroke, and others.

Tips for better sleep 

If you’re having sleep issues, try lifestyle changes in lieu of starting on sleeping aides. Consider talking to your healthcare provider and trying the following:

  • Get regular exercise, try yoga

  • Keep a regular sleep routine

  • Stop using digital tools for an hour or so before sleep

  • Avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks in the afternoon and evening

  • Empty your bladder right before bed

  • Try a sleep app for white noise

  • Follow improvement strategies provided by your healthcare provider for diabetes management 

By making adjustments to your diabetes treatment plan, sleep-related habits, and seeing your healthcare provider to rule out any medical causes of your sleep issues — you’ll be on your way to a sounder night’s sleep in no time. 

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