Can Lack of Sleep Cause Diabetes?

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When we think about diabetes, we usually think about causes involving food, but did you know that sleep might also have an effect on it? Some evidence suggests that sleep deprivation can lead to pre-diabetic states.

It’s important to note that when we talk about sleep deprivation, we don’t mean having had a few bad nights – it’s a long-term, serious issue. If you’re a bit sleepy after a late night, you’re probably fine. If you’re chronically tired, struggling to sleep for more than a few hours at a time, and losing focus on daily activities? Then you’re probably suffering from sleep deprivation.

Mark Mahowald, director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center, notes that our bodies’ reaction to sleep deprivation can be similar to insulin resistance – a precursor to diabetes.  Additionally, poor sleep can lead to weight gain, which also increases the risk of diabetes.

Whilst there’s no guarantee that lack of sleep will give you diabetes, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that diabetes can cause sleep loss, so it’s always worth getting checked out if you’re concerned.  Many diabetic people have the same issues sleeping – waking often to go to the bathroom.

This is because when your blood sugar is too high; your kidneys try to lower it by urinating. If you find that you’re not sleeping well because of a constant need to use the bathroom, it’s definitely worth talking to your doctor about.

Diabetes Care published a study in which 40 people with type 2 diabetes were assessed for 6 nights, as well as providing blood samples. Those who were found to sleep poorly had much higher levels of glucose and insulin in their blood (meaning that they had much higher insulin resistance – which increases the risk of complications).

This study doesn’t prove that lack of sleep can cause diabetes, but it certainly shows that it can worsen it.

glucose level meter for diabetics

There is a solid amount of evidence to suggest that chronic lack of sleep can lead to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. The main reasoning for this is that our glucose metabolism (our ability to maintain a stable level) is disrupted when our sleep cycles are.

This can lead to a decrease in insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, which can lead to a high level of blood sugar, which – eventually – may lead to diabetes. Whilst we know this connection exists, we don’t necessarily know the full details yet. It’s a complicated topic, and sleeplessness is just one of many risks. However, they’re one that you can take control of.

The good news is that a lack of sleep can be fixed. Start by working out how much sleep you need, and how far away from meeting that goal you are. It may be as simple as moving your nighttime routine an hour earlier, or enforcing a strict ‘no electronics half an hour before bedtime’ rule. If it’s something trickier, like sleep apnea or insomnia, consult a medical professional – they’ll be able to give medical advice on your situation.

Author: Sarah Cummings

I think we’re all nerds, but I’m probably the biggest nerd in the group. Put me nose deep in a spreadsheet and I’ll start smiling.

I love to travel, hang out with positive people, and love cycling when I find the time!

My hope is that everyone who visits our site will walk away with a fresh perspective. I think too many people in society downplay the importance of sleep. In my opinion, it’s the difference between an average life and an amazing one.

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