Sleep and Diabetes: Why It’s Key for Blood Sugar Control

If you’re not getting good-quality slumber, your blood sugar could suffer.

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This might sounds like an ideal type 2 diabetes treatment plan: take meds as needed, limit carbs and processed food, eat more veggies and lean protein, exercise daily, and track your blood sugar if your doc advises it. But there’s one surprising element missing: get good sleep each night.

“If you have diabetes, getting good sleep is really, really important,” says Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, MD, in internist in New York City.

Getting too little sleep throws off your hormone levels. According to the National Sleep Foundation, ongoing sleep loss (making six hours of shut-eye your nightly habit, say) causes your body to release less insulin after you eat. Sleep loss can also jack up levels of stress hormones, like cortisol, that can make your body resistant to insulin. This causes excess glucose in your bloodstream, which can raise your risk of developing type 2 diabetes or make your diabetes harder to control if you’ve already been diagnosed.

What’s more, when you’re tired, you’re more likely to crave certain foods that give you a quick energy boost (think bagels or doughnuts). The more of those simple carbohydrates you eat, the worse your blood sugar control will be, says Sandra Arevalo, RDN, a certified diabetes educator and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Association of Diabetes Educators.

But it’s not quite so simple as just sleep more, or just go to be bed earlier. For one thing, certain diabetes symptoms, like frequent urination, can make patients toss and turn and get worse-quality sleep. For another, people with diabetes often have an increased risk of other problems that rob them of a good night’s rest, such as sleep apnea, or restless leg syndrome, according to the Joslin Diabetes Center.

If you know you’re not getting enough sleep (or enough high-quality sleep; you wake up tired despite your best efforts), talk to your doctor. Conditions like sleep apnea are very common and very underdiagnosed, and treatment can make a real difference in helping you sleep more soundly. You could also try this yoga routine for insomnia, start wearing socks to bed, avoid these sleep-stealing habits, and make sure your bedroom follows sleep hygiene best practices.