The link between sleep and diabetes
Type-2 diabetes is a disease that makes your body unable to break down blood sugar (glucose). This usually happens either when your body is unable to produce enough insulin or becomes resistant to its effects. As a result, your cells become deprived of glucose, your body’s primary fuel source, and you quickly become fatigued and suffer a number unpleasant symptoms.
In most circumstances, type-2 diabetes is linked to factors such as obesity, poor diet, age and genetics, but more recently, research has begun shedding light on another potential factor that might contribute to the disease’s development: poor sleep.
In 2007, researchers at the University of Chicago found that the suppression of slow wave sleep in young adults decreased their ability to regulate their blood sugar levels, with three consecutive nights of poor sleep carrying the same increased risk as gaining 20 to 30 pounds (9 to 13 kg)! Boston University School of Medicine elaborated on this, finding that people who slept less than six hours a night were more susceptible to blood sugar complications compared to those getting eight or more hours of sleep.
Why is this the case? How can something like sleep deprivation influence insulin levels?
Sleep can affect your odds of developing diabetes in two primary ways. The first, we’ve already discussed in our blog, “Is your lack of sleep making you overeat? Basically, poor sleep can increase your levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates hunger cravings, while lowering your body’s natural appetite suppressor, leptin.
The result is that you wake up craving sugary, carbohydrate-rich foods, making you eat more throughout the day. In fact, it’s estimated that those who don’t get enough sleep can consume up to 300 extra calories a day, and all this extra eating will affect your blood sugar levels and eventually, your waistline, making you more predisposed to type-2 diabetes.
Sleep deprivation also causes less insulin to be released after you eat, meaning that your blood sugar isn’t being broken down as efficiently. Your body will also start to release more cortisol, a stress hormone, which will then go on to negatively impact your sleep patterns.
Who’s at risk?
If you’re suffering from poor sleep and trying to control your blood sugar levels, it can feel a lot like you’re stuck in a vicious cycle, with poor sleep stimulating high blood sugar and high blood sugar subsequently causing poor sleep. However, for a variety of surprising reasons, some people are at greater risk of being pulled into this cycle than others.
Post-menopausal women: According to recent research, post-menopausal women are more at risk of developing type-2 diabetes, particularly if they still suffer from hot flashes and night sweats. In fact, night sweats were linked to a 20% higher risk of diabetes! This could be because night sweats are renowned for disrupting your sleep, waking you up frequently during the night and increasing your susceptibility to insomnia.
Sleep apnea patients: Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) affects as many as one in four adults in Canada and is characterized by an obstruction of your upper airways. It can cause you to wake up multiple times during the night and stimulate symptoms such as loud snoring.
Sufferers of stress: As I mentioned above, sleep deprivation can cause your body to release more cortisol, which can subsequently affect issues such as night sweats, hot flashes and your diet. Stress activates your sympathetic nervous system, pushing you into a fight-or-flight mode, where your body assumes that your life is being threatening. As a result, your nervous system will keep you awake and alert, making it not only difficult for you to fall asleep, but also to enter NREM, or non-rapid eye movement, deep sleep.
Poor diet: Having a poor diet is a leading cause of diabetes, but it can also influence other factors such as sleep deprivation, stress and hot flashes. Consuming excessive amounts of sugary foods and caffeinated beverages will affect your sleep patterns, fuelling that vicious cycle of not sleeping and then overeating, not to mention that such foods can also contribute to stress and even trigger hot flashes.
How can you reduce the risk?
The good news is that the effects of a short period of sleep deprivation can be reversed. In fact your insulin levels can improve after just two full nights of sleep. However, sleep deprivation can be a tough issue to tackle, which is why I’ve devised a few tips and solutions to help you get a better night’s rest.
1 – Practice good sleep hygiene
Sleep hygiene and your bedtime routine can have a huge impact on how you sleep, which is why I’d recommend checking out our top sleep hygiene tips. It’s important to create a comfortable environment to fall asleep in, one that’s free of distractions—don’t bring your work into your bedroom and try to reduce your use of devices such as smartphones and tablets before bedtime.
Make sure your bedroom isn’t too hot and that your mattress isn’t causing you any discomfort. If you continue to have trouble getting to sleep, it might be worth trying our gentle sleep remedy Deep Sleep. Prepared using a blend of Valerian and Hops, it’s non-drowsy and, if taken approximately 30 minutes to an hour before bed, it can help you drift off into a deep, natural sleep.
2 - Eat to improve your sleep
It’s no secret that what you eat affects both your odds of developing diabetes and your sleep patterns, so getting your diet in order should be a priority. Start by reducing your intake of refined sugar and processed carbohydrates and instead focus on sleep-boosting foods—for more information check out our “6 surprising foods to avoid before bedtime”. It’s also important that you consider what you are eating before you go to bed—the wrong snacks can make a big difference.
It’s also vital that you stay hydrated. When your blood sugar levels are high, your kidneys will work overtime to try and remove any excess glucose from your body, which, in addition to making you need to pee a bit more, might cause dehydration. Instead of pouring yourself a cup of coffee when fatigue strikes, try reaching for a bottle of water instead!
3 – Fight the flashes
Post-menopausal and menopausal hot flashes are a major cause of sleep disruption, so it’s important to tackle the issue head-on. Start by trying to identify the foods that could be causing your flashes—spicy foods, salty foods and caffeinated drinks are the usual prime suspects. Again, it’s also important to stay hydrated: if you sweat, you lose fluids, which can put you at risk of becoming dehydrated.
It might also be worth trying a natural remedy like our MenoForce Sage Tablets, which are traditionally used to combat menopausal sweats and flashes. If you’re post-menopausal, a variety of issues could be causing your sweats, anything from stress to certain medications, so it might be worth speaking to your GP to identify the underlying cause.
4 – Keep active
Keeping active and fit is an amazing way to combat so many problems, including stress, sleep deprivation and night sweats. Multiple studies have revealed that aerobic exercise is capable of reducing anxiety and depression, which can go a long way towards boosting your mood. It’s also thought that a little moderate exercise can even help diminish hot flashes by improving temperature control.
As if that weren’t enough, it’s also thought that exercise can help with sleep conditions such as insomnia. Not bad!
5 - Beat stress
Though I’ve mentioned that stress is involved in almost every point on this list, its impact on your mental and physical wellbeing really cannot be underestimated. While I’d always recommend trying to tackle the source of your stress directly, it isn’t always that simple.
Whether it’s work, family or other commitments, most of us barely get an hour a day to ourselves, which is a real problem, as you really do need time to take a breather and relax. Try to set aside a part of your day to focus on yourself and avoid toxic habits that might be fuelling negative emotions, such as eating poorly and isolating yourself from the rest of the world.
Mindfulness is one stress-busting trend that has really taken off, so it might be worth looking into the practice. Gentle forms of exercise like yoga and tai chi also include deep breathing techniques that help you soothe yourself in times of tension or anxiety. The best thing you can really do, though, is to be kind to yourself.
Gray KE et al. Menopause December 6, 2017 dol: 10.1097/GME.0000000000001033