Dr. Catherine Darley, ND

There is strong connection between blood sugar control and sleep health. As the percentage of Americans with diabetes, metabolic syndrome and pre-diabetes increases, this is something for each of us to be aware of, and to evaluate whether it is relevant for our own health.

Sleep Deprivation

As we’ve discussed before in this column, chronic sleep deprivation is one of the most common sleep problems, with 40% of adults getting less than the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep each night.1 This alone wreaks havoc by changing the hormones leptin and ghrelin. Leptin is responsible for helping us feel full and satiated at the end of a meal. However, it’s levels are reduced when we are sleep deprived, so we don’t get the signal that we’re full. The other hormone, ghrelin, stimulates appetite, and is increased by sleep deprivation. The result is that when sleep deprived, an adult will eat about 300 calories more in a day.2 To put into perspective, 300 calories more a day would result in about 30 pounds over a year.

Another key health behavior to control weight and control blood sugar is exercise. When people are sleep deprived, their exercise motivation tanks.

Sleep apnea

You may have heard of metabolic syndrome, a constellation of conditions including trunkal obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high triglycerides. With metabolic syndrome the risk of heart attack and stroke increases. What you may not know is the way that sleep apnea contributes to metabolic syndrome.3

In obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) the upper airway (near the back of the throat) is periodically blocked for 10 seconds or more. This happens repeatedly through the night, sometimes as often as 50+ times an hour. Each time the airway is blocked, the blood oxygen levels drops, just like it does when you hold your breath. At some point the body gives an “alarm” signal so the person wakes for a few seconds, and resumes breathing. This “alarm” includes an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and release of sympathetic hormones. And the cycle repeats over and over, night after night. This greatly increases the patients risk of heart disease and stroke.

Are you motivated?

Diabetes is a long-term, chronic disease that is life-changing as people struggle to manage it. I hope after reading about the connection between sleep and blood sugar control you are motivated to incorporate healthy sleep into your overall diabetes preventive lifestyle. First think of a time you were really well rested and felt energetic during the day – how much sleep were you getting? How much sleep do you do best with now? Once you’ve identified your “sleep number” commit to getting it every night for two weeks and notice the impact on your blood sugar control, appetite and exercise energy.

Second, could you possibly have sleep apnea? Some common symptoms are a headache and dry mouth upon waking, excessive daytime sleepiness (even falling asleep at stop signs), and your bedpartner may report loud snoring, gasps or breathing pauses during sleep. If you have any of these symptoms talk to your doctor about getting screened for sleep apnea.

Let’s work together to prevent and control diabetes and other blood sugar diseases by working on our sleep health. Here’s to you!

Darley_headshot_resizedCatherine Darley, ND is the founding director of The Institute of Naturopathic Sleep Medicine in Seattle, Washington. Dr. Darley is passionate about the role healthy sleep plays in overall health and quality of life, and is pioneering the field of naturopathic sleep medicine. She provides comprehensive care for people of all ages with sleep problems, specializing in insomnia and circadian rhythm disorders. In addition to providing patient care, she educates the public and does corporate fatigue management programs.

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  1. Gallup poll, December 19, 2013.
  2. American Heart Association, news release, March 23, 2011
  3. Nannapaneni, S., Ramar, K., & Surani, S. (2013). Effect of obstructive sleep apnea on type 2 diabetes mellitus: A comprehensive literature review. World Journal of Diabetes, 4(6), 238–244. doi:10.4239/wjd.v4.i6.238
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