Whenever diabetes patients enter Lynn Maarouf’s office with out-of-control blood sugar levels, she immediately asks them how they are sleeping at night. All too often, the answer is the same: not well.
“Any time your blood sugar is really high, your kidneys try to get rid of it by urinating,” says Maarouf, RD, the diabetes education director of the Stark Diabetes Center at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. “So you are probably getting up and going to bathroom all night long -- and not sleeping well.”
Yael Levy recalls having chronic nightmares as far back as elementary school, when she was living in Israel. The grandchild of Holocaust survivors, she says her dreams were filled with images of suffering and death.
In one recurrent nightmare, Levy was trapped in a concentration camp, facing death. In another, she was drowning in deep water. At their worst, the nightmares occurred on an almost weekly basis, leaving her jittery and desperately fatigued.
"I would wake up so terrified that I was afraid...
Diabetes and sleep problems often go hand in hand. Diabetes can cause sleep loss, and there’s evidence that not sleeping well can increase your risk of developing diabetes.
Low Sleep, High Blood Sugar
Maarouf says high blood sugar is a red flag for sleep problems among people with diabetes for another reason. “People who are tired will eat more because they want to get energy from somewhere,” she says. “That can mean consuming sugar or other foods that can spike blood sugar levels.”
“I really push people to eat properly throughout the day and get their blood sugars under control so they sleep better at night,” Maarouf says. “If you get your blood sugar under control, you will get a good night sleep and wake up feeling fabulous with lots of energy.”
The Connection Between Lack of Sleep and Diabetes
“There is some evidence that sleep deprivation could lead to pre-diabetic state,” says Mark Mahowald, MD, director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center in Hennepin County.
According to Mahowald, the body's reaction to sleep loss can resemble insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes. Insulin’s job is to help the body use glucose for energy. In insulin resistance, cells fail to use the hormone efficiently, resulting in high blood sugar.
Diabetes occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells do not properly use the insulin. When insulin is not doing its job, high blood sugar levels build in the body to the point where they can harm the eyes, kidneys, nerves, or heart.