Diabetes and Sleep: What’s the Link?

Diabetes can cause a number of problems that affect even the simplest tasks of day to day living.

Yet, one area that people don’t often realize is the impact that it has on your sleep.

Part of this may come down to the control that you have on your blood sugar. 

Thirst, hunger, and frequent urination are all very common side effects that can affect your ability to get a good night of rest. 

Sleep Disturbance

What many people don’t realize is that sleeping for too long can be as detrimental as having trouble falling asleep as you can become ‘overtired’, leading to both mental and physical fatigue throughout the day. 

For those who frequently find themselves having to get up and down throughout the night to visit the bathroom (nocturia), this may be a sign that your blood sugar is too high in the late hours.

As well as this, if you find yourself thirsty, then it’s because the body turns to your tissues for hydration when it’s carrying extra glucose. Lastly, low blood sugar can cause dizziness, sickness, and sweating, all of which can impact your sleep.

As you can see, all of these are linked to blood sugar which is why those with diabetes are at such a high risk.

In order to look at this further, a 2012 study examined in depth the effects of cardiovascular and metabolic disorders upon our regular sleep pattern, finding a strong relationship between sleep disturbances and diabetes.

The researchers concluded that “sleep disturbance is a significant risk factor” for diabetes, but also that it is “potentially modifiable”, meaning that all is not lost.

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Sleep Disorders

Other studies have examined the connection between diabetes and specific sleep disorders. For instance, a 2009 study found that 86% of their participants had both sleep apnoea and diabetes with over half of them needing treatment because of it.

Sleep apnea is more commonly associated with type 2 diabetes due to excess weight restricting their airflow. Being overweight can also be a leading reason behind snoring, too.

As you may be beginning to see, diabetes is not often the only root cause. A number of lifestyle factors can worsen your risk, hence why the original researchers have said that the risk is “potentially modifiable”.

Other sleep issues such as restless leg syndrome (RLS) are linked with high blood sugar levels, but also iron deficiencies and smoking. Insomnia (trouble falling and staying asleep) is again linked with high blood sugar levels, but also stress.


One of the biggest battles with diabetes and a good night under the covers is the influence the two have on your hormones.

When you are tired, we become hungrier as our body tries to make up for the lack of energy through food. Yet, this causes a spike in your blood sugar levels which can, in turn, impact your sleep cycle once again.

You may not be able to not have as much control over your blood sugar with diabetes, but you can control these additional areas which could be worsening the problem.

Therefore, if you’re having problems with your sleep, don’t immediately think that it’s just because of your diabetes. Making sure to keep at a healthy weight, lower your stress levels, and cut down on smoking may be the solution to all your sleep-related problems.

As well as this, a lack of sleep has been frequently associated with being overweight or obese.

If you are tired, then try not to turn to food for energy. If you’re hungry, then choose healthy options as opposed to any junk food or high-calorie sources to keep your blood sugar at bay.

How to improve your sleep

Other helpful tips to improve your sleep are:

  • Stay away from blue light: mobile phones, televisions, tablets, and anything with a bright screen will emit a blue light that signals to our brain that it needs to stay awake.

  • Avoid caffeine: caffeine can stay in our bloodstream for hours and hours after we’ve consumed it. If you’re serious about a restful night, then avoid any sources of caffeine (coffee, energy drinks, tea, etc.) from 8 hours before you plan to go to bed.

  • Wind down: instead of answering emails or stressing about the next day, take time to calm down with a book, podcast, or audiobook to keep your mind settled.

  • Stick with the regime: if you find yourself lying awake for hours one night, don’t then go to bed much later the next. All your doing with that is solidifying bad habits. Instead, take a book to bed with you or do something relaxing in bed to keep your mind rested and enforce your sleep schedule.

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  1. Grandner MA, Jackson NJ, Pak VM, Gehrman PR. Sleep disturbance is associated with cardiovascular and metabolic disorders. J Sleep Res. 2012;21(4):427–433. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2869.2011.00990.x
  2. Foster, G ,Sanders, M , Millman, R, etal. (2009). Obstructive Sleep Apnea Among Obese Patients With Type 2 Diabetes. American Diabetes Association. 32 (6), p1017-1019.
  3. Gangwisch JE; Heymsfield SB; Boden-Albala B; Buijs RM; Kreier F; Pickering TG; Rundle AG; Zammit GK; Malaspina D. Sleep duration as a risk factor for diabetes incidence in a large US sample. SLEEP 2007;30(12):1667-1673.

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