6 Proven Ways to Sleep Better When You Have Diabetes

Diabetes and sleep are clearly linked, which is why many people with type 2 diabetes experience insomnia or sleep disturbances.

Diabetes is a chronic disease that causes blood sugar to become too high. This occurs when your body cannot make enough insulin, your cells are resistant to the insulin it makes, or a combination of both. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, it is estimated that 10.5% of the U.S. population has diabetes. Type 2 diabetes, the most common type of diabetes, accounts for 90% to 95% of people with diabetes, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Diabetes self-management requires addressing aspects of daily life that impact blood sugar. Sleep is one factor that can impact blood sugar and be affected by blood sugar. People with diabetes are more likely to have sleep disorders like insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea, poor sleep quality, and sleep disturbances. In addition, insufficient sleep has been associated with an increased risk of prediabetes, diabetes and metabolic syndrome, per the CDC.

In this article, you will learn more about the importance of sleep and discover ways to sleep better when you have diabetes.

How Blood Sugar Levels Can Affect Your Rest

Experiencing hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) at night can affect your rest. High blood sugar levels can cause increased thirst and increased urination. When experienced at night, frequent trips to the bathroom can interrupt sleep. Using the bathroom more than two times per night is clinically significant and has been self-reported to be the leading cause of sleep disturbance. Low blood sugar can cause night sweats, increased heartbeat and palpitations, resulting in nighttime awakening and thus impacting rest.

If you've had diabetes for a long time or your blood sugars have been chronically elevated, you may experience neuropathy, damage to the nerves. According to the NIDDK, peripheral neuropathy affects the legs, arms, feet, and hands and can cause cramping, pain, numbness and tingling. For many people with diabetes, these symptoms can be worse at night.

Common Sleep Disorders in People with Diabetes

According to a 2022 meta-analysis published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, people with diabetes are more likely to experience insomnia, restless legs syndrome, and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is considered a movement and sleep disorder because it is characterized by uncontrollable leg movements that happen in the evening and are most intense at night, disrupting sleep. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, RLS is more common in people who have sleep deprivation, sleep apnea or type 2 diabetes.

People with OSA are more likely to have diabetes, and people with diabetes are at increased risk of developing OSA. When upper airways are blocked, people with OSA experience broken sleep and intermittent hypoxia (low levels of oxygen in your tissues), causing inflammation, oxidative stress, and hormonal disruptions. These factors contribute to insulin resistance, which can cause blood sugars to rise.

Why a Good Night's Sleep Is Important When You Have Diabetes

Adequate sleep is necessary for overall health because it plays an important role in regulating appetite, mood and energy. For people with diabetes, less sleep can cause daytime drowsiness which can impact how you manage your diabetes. How you eat, when you eat and what you eat may change, which can affect your blood sugar. According to the CDC, in addition, insufficient sleep may cause:

  • Insulin resistance
  • Issues with weight or difficulty losing weight
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Disruptions in your immune system; making it harder to fight infections
  • Increased risk of depression and anxiety

The American Diabetes Association recommends that a thorough assessment of sleep quality and sleep disorders be done in people with diabetes.

a photo of a woman waking up well-rested in bed
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6 Proven Ways to Sleep Better When You Have Diabetes

Getting better sleep may take time, but it's worth the effort. Here are some tips to help you get started. Choose one to tackle at a time so you don't become overwhelmed.

Get Your Blood Sugars in Better Control

If you are experiencing blood sugar levels that are way off your target levels, getting them in range can help you to sleep better. If you're not sure what these levels should be, discuss them with your health care provider or certified diabetes care and education specialist.

Simple tweaks to your diabetes regimen may help you to get your numbers in a safe range before bed. For example, eating more vegetables at dinner and less starch, going for a short, low-impact walk, practicing deep breathing or stretching, increasing or decreasing your medicine before dinner, or changing the timing of your medication can have an impact on blood sugars. Because there are so many variables that impact blood sugar, troubleshooting with your health care provider will assist you in finding better outcomes.

Treat Your Comorbidities

According to a 2018 article published in the Journal of Diabetes Investigation, diabetes and sleep disorders co-exist. Therefore, in addition to getting your blood sugars in better control, seeking medical treatment for your other health condition can help your diabetes and sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), for example, causes a person's breathing to start and stop throughout the night due to recurrent upper airway collapse. It is associated with full-body inflammation, insulin resistance and oxidative stress. The worse it is, the more it will impact your blood sugar levels. Treatment may include weight loss, identifying and treating the upper airway obstruction, and using a continuous positive airway pressure machine (CPAP), that helps to keep your airways open while you are asleep.

Have a Bedtime Routine

For better sleep hygiene, you'll benefit from establishing a nighttime regimen that is consistent, comfortable and relaxing. Having a bedtime routine that fits your life and one you can implement daily is best. This may include:

  • Washing up
  • Applying lotion
  • Listening to music
  • Reading a book (not on a device) before bed

Comfort is also important. Wear loose-fitting clothing, and choose bedding and pillows that fit your preferences. Make your room dark and keep the temperature and humidity controlled. Aim to go to sleep and wake up around the same time each night and day. These behaviors can increase your sleep quality and duration, which can improve your blood sugars.

Turning off Electronic Devices at Night

According to a 2020 study published in Sleep, using electronic devices before bed, including smartphones, has been associated with fatigue, negative mood and insomnia. The blue light emitted by these devices can also increase alertness and make it harder to fall asleep, which can shorten sleep duration. If possible, avoid watching screens at least an hour before bed and do not leave your phone next to your bed. This can prevent you from being tempted to scroll before bed or pick it up in the middle of the night.

Exercise Regularly

Regular exercise has many benefits for people with diabetes. Exercise reduces insulin resistance, meaning your body becomes more sensitive to insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps to move sugar from your blood to your cells. According to the CDC, regular exercise not only improves blood sugar but is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, healthier weight and better sleep. Start small, do something you enjoy, and build up gradually; just 10 minutes a day is better than nothing. Before starting any new regimen, be sure to get clearance from your health care provider.

Avoid Caffeine in the Afternoon and at Night

Caffeine is a stimulant and its effects are highly variable. Your biggest boost of caffeine typically occurs 30 minutes after consumption; however, the effects of it can last anywhere from two to ten hours, per a 2018 article in Risk Management and Healthcare Policy. Factors such as the amount of caffeine consumed, caffeine metabolism, tolerance and half-life (how long it takes to metabolize caffeine) all play a role in how someone will respond. Drinking it later in the afternoon or evening can increase your alertness, make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep, and reduce your quality of sleep. For these reasons, it is often recommended to avoid caffeine consumption six to eight hours before bed.

If you have diabetes and are drinking caffeine in the late afternoon or evening due to daytime fatigue, that late coffee can disrupt your evening sleep further, exacerbating the cycle. If possible, try to cut back or reduce it altogether and see if your sleep and alertness improve.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does a lack of sleep raise your blood sugar?

Research suggests that the risk of developing type 2 diabetes is associated with insufficient sleep. Lack of sleep can make you feel tired during the day. Fatigue may influence you to eat more and move less, two factors that can impact blood sugars. Inadequate sleep can raise cortisol levels, increase inflammation and reduce insulin sensitivity, all factors that cause blood sugars to rise. In addition, less than seven hours of sleep per night is associated with an increased risk of insulin resistance.

Can sleep help you with diabetes?

Getting adequate and better-quality sleep may help with insulin sensitivity and appetite regulation, which can have an impact on blood sugar. If you currently don't sleep enough, sleeping more may also assist in weight loss, which on its own can improve blood sugar. Lastly, getting a good night's rest improves your energy for the day which can impact your decision-making and diabetes care. You are more likely to take better care of your diabetes when you feel energized.

What happens if people with diabetes sleep too much?

The recommended amount of sleep for adults per night is seven to nine hours. Studies have shown that sleeping more than nine hours per night increases the risk of diabetes. If you have diabetes and are sleeping too much and still feel tired or are having trouble managing your blood sugar, it is important to speak to your health care provider to rule out any other underlying conditions.

The Bottom Line

Sleep is one of the many things you do daily to keep yourself healthy. Sleep is important for overall health and longevity, it plays a role in regulating hormones, appetite and mood. Lack of sleep may be a risk factor for developing diabetes and can contribute to increased blood sugar in people who already have diabetes.

Blood sugar management is also important for healthy sleep. The two seem to go hand in hand. Therefore, if you are having trouble managing your diabetes and sleeping, starting to implement some simple strategies may help. Work toward establishing a good sleep routine and moving more daily. If you are worried that you have a sleep problem or a sleep disorder, reach out to your health care provider for help.

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