In every issue of WebMD the Magazine, we ask our experts to answer readers' questions about a wide range of topics. In our July/August 2012 issue, we asked WebMD's diabetes expert, Michael Dansinger, MD, about the link between diabetes and poor sleep.
Q: I have diabetes, and I'm not sleeping well. Are the two related, and what can I do?
If you have diabetes, chances are good that you already have some form of nerve pain or nerve damage, called diabetic neuropathy. "People with diabetes have about a 60% chance of getting neuropathy of any kind," says Dace L. Trence, MD, an endocrinologist and director of the Diabetes Care Center at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. "It's probably an equal risk of getting neuropathy with type 1 and type 2 diabetes."
You may have tingling, pain, or numbness in your feet and hands...
A: Yes, people with diabetes often have reduced sleep quality and quantity. Sleep apnea, medications, lack of exercise, and abnormal glucose and hormone levels -- all of which are common in people with diabetes -- can disrupt rest. So can nerve pain and frequent nighttime urination (called nocturia), which cause people with diabetes to wake up more often and have trouble falling back to sleep.
Restoring good sleep can be challenging. But many of the steps you take to manage your condition will also help you sleep more soundly and longer. A healthy diet, exercise, and good sleep habits (such as going to bed at a reasonable hour and relaxing in a long bath before bedtime) can make a real difference in both your diabetes and your sleep.
More specifically, you can reduce how often you urinate at night by drinking fewer liquids before bedtime and by elevating your legs for several hours in the evening. This prevents any fluid retained in the lower legs from being reabsorbed into the body, resulting in more urine. If you have sleep apnea, work with your doctor on treatment. Finally, ask your doctor to adjust your medications (or add new ones) to help you sleep better.