Why Good Quality Sleep is Essential for Successful Diabetes Management

A bad night’s sleep can leave us feeling cranky, cold, tired, and lacking motivation to make healthy choices. What’s more, when we miss out on restful sleep our bodies are less able to regulate blood sugar. Ensuring a healthy sleep routine is a primary component of diabetes management, but, ironically, erratic blood sugar can actually disrupt sleep.

How Sleeplessness Affects Blood Glucose Control

Sleep plays a role in appetite, weight management, and blood glucose regulation by affecting levels of the stress hormone cortisol and neurohormones melatonin, dopamine, and serotonin. The interaction of these hormones and feelings of fatigue make us more likely to feel like snacking on comforting, carbohydrate-rich foods after a bad night’s sleep. Unfortunately, as we indulge in such foods, our blood sugar becomes more unstable, making it more likely that we’ll experience further sleeplessness.

As the quality of sleep decreases so does our ability to cope with stress. Cortisol levels rise and this disturbs other hormones, such as serotonin and growth hormone.  Growth hormone is needed to repair tissues and build muscle, while serotonin is our happy, feel-good hormone that also regulates appetite. Decreases in these hormones reduce our motivation to exercise, eat well and properly manage diabetes.

How Diabetes Affects Sleep Patterns

There is a strong link between sleep disorders and type 2 diabetes, including the fact that disturbances of our sleep hormone melatonin may affect insulin levels. Furthermore, diabetics can often experience depression, anxiety, fear, shock, and increased stress that may affect sleep quality.

There is a strong link between sleep disorders and type 2 diabetes

Specific diabetic complications, such as diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage and pain), can also make sleep difficult. Since lack of sleep also affects our capacity to heal quickly, the risk of diabetes complications such as nerve pain and dangerous infection in the lower limbs increases.

Unstable blood sugar also increases the need to urinate, disrupting sleep.  Similarly, obesity connected to diabetes may cause sleep apnea, characterised by loud snoring and disrupted sleep.

This catch-22 may necessitate interventions to improve sleep quality for better diabetes management that will, in time, lead to healthier natural sleep patterns.

Tips for Improved Sleep

There are a variety of ways in which to improve the sleep environment and promote refreshing sleep naturally, such as:

  • Using blackout curtains to reduce light in the bedroom
  • Using white noise to decrease sound disruption, making it easier to fall and stay asleep
  • Keeping the bedroom a little cooler, as our body temperature drops at night to induce sleep
  • Developing sleep rituals that calm the nervous system, such as a nightly bath or using relaxing essential oils, like lavender
  • Sleeping separately from a partner if snoring or fidgetiness are issues
  • Removing TV and computers from the bedroom, restricting TV and computer use one hour before bed and/or using blue-light screen filters after sunset
  • Cutting yourself off from caffeine at midday
  • Drinking chamomile or valerian tea to encourage drowsiness and relaxation

Some people, especially shift workers, and those experiencing insomnia secondary to a condition such as diabetes, may find it helpful to discuss the use of natural sleep aids like melatonin, 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), and L-theanine to address disrupted sleep patterns. These can promote relaxation and regular sleep to help you wake feeling refreshed and better able to manage life with diabetes.