Ask Dana: Simple Solutions to your Diabetes Dilemmas
I have been struggling with sleep for the past year or so. I have problems both getting to sleep at a decent time and I am also having trouble staying asleep. I have been really frustrated and tired – plus my lack of sleep is made worse when I start to stress about my blood sugars. I think my sleep issues have impacted my diabetes management in a big way. Can this be the case – does my lack of sleep effect my blood sugars?
– Roger McMann, Weatherford, Texas
The cycle that you describe – the inability to get a good night’s sleep coupled with the stress that arises from lack of sleep compounded by worry about falling asleep – is very common. You have made a very astute observation in connecting your sleep with your diabetes management. Sleep, or the lack of it, impacts various aspects of health, and diabetes management is no exception.
Poor sleep can negatively effect diabetes management in a host of different ways. Most notably, when your body is sleep-deprived, you crave fast-acting carbohydrates, namely sugar, to provide a quick energy source. You might notice this during an early morning search for a sugar-coated pastry or a late afternoon chocolate snack attack. Additionally, when we are tired, our body does not regulate the hormone that controls our appetite. Simply put, we eat more when we are tired. Moreover, sleep deprivation causes an increase in certain stress hormones. These hormones cause blood sugars to rise and also decrease your sensitivity to insulin. As a result, chronic insomnia and exhaustion will impact how much insulin you need to successfully manage your diabetes and control your blood sugars. This can become a vicious cycle.
There are so many health benefits to a good night in addition to benefits to diabetes management. But, how do we change the way we approach sleep and gain a few more restful nights? First, it is important to rule out any sleep disorders and sleep apnea. A sleep evaluation is always a good idea and can often be completed from the comforts of your home. Next, it is important to spend time thinking about your sleep hygiene and how you prepare for sleep. This may include increasing bright, blue light exposure during the day and reducing blue light exposure at night. Light therapy can be of significant benefit towards regulating sleep hours. Blue light filters can also easily be placed on smartphones, tablets and computers to ease you into the evening hours. Set a personal policy to use your bed for sleeping only; hours of TV or reading in bed can often disrupt a restful night. Additionally, research has shown that setting the thermostat in your bedroom to a very cool temperature (around 68 degrees Fahrenheit) can induce and maintain a quality sleep cycle. Limiting caffeine after 2pm and reducing night-time eating has also been shown to help improve sleep quality.
Finding a routine for a restful night can take some work but it will be worth the investment of time and energy. Sleep habits are highly individualized but seeking guidance from a health care professional or family and friends may help you achieve not only improved health but improved diabetes management as well.
Dana is a Certified Diabetes Care & Education Specialist and Registered Dietitian. She holds certifications in insulin pump therapy and obesity interventions for adults. Dana received a Master’s in Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago after receiving a Bachelor’s in Science with Honors at the University of Texas at Austin. After college, Dana served as an AmeriCorp volunteer on a variety of health education initiatives and played a key role in establishing the first school-based health clinic in the city of Chicago.