The Sleep-Diabetes Connection

Not sleeping? Check your blood sugar levels.

From the WebMD Archives


The Link Between Lack of Sleep and Weight

Some studies show that people who get less sleep tend to be heavier than those who sleep well, Mahowald says. Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for the development of diabetes.

There is also a link between diabetes and sleep apnea, a sleep disorder marked by loud snoring and pauses in breathing while you sleep. The culprit may be excess weight, which can cause fat deposits around the upper airway that obstruct breathing. So being overweight or obese is a risk factor for sleep apnea as well as diabetes.

“If you have diabetes, are overweight, and snore, tell your doctor,” says Susan Zafarlotfi, PhD, clinical director of the Institute for Sleep and Wake Disorders at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. “You may need a sleep study.”

Sleep apnea can prevent a person from getting a good night sleep, which can worsen diabetes or perhaps increase the risk of developing diabetes. In sleep studies, you are monitored while you sleep for sleep disorders such sleep apnea.

There are many effective treatments for sleep apnea. These include lifestyle changes such as weight loss for mild cases and devices to open up blocked airways for more significant cases.

Sleep Is as Important as What You Eat

“In general, people with diabetes have to be very careful about sleep because anything that throws off their routine can make them feel a lack of energy and fatigue,” says Zafarlotfi. “The more fatigued they feel, the more their motor is running, and the more likely they are to develop insulin deficiencies.

“Proper sleep is as important as diet for people with diabetes,” she says.

Determining How Much Sleep You Need

“There is no formula for how much sleep you need,” Zafarlotfi says. “It depends on you.”

Mahowald agrees. “On average, we need 7.5 hours per night, but your sleep requirement is genetically determined and varies,” he says. “It can be about four hours on the short end to 10 or 11 on the long end.”

Want to know if you are sleep-deprived? The answer is simple, Mahowald says: “If you use an alarm clock, you are. If you were getting adequate sleep, your brain would awaken you before the alarm goes off.”

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on January 19, 2010



Lynn Maarouf, RD, diabetes education director, Stark Diabetes Center, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston.

Mark Mahowald, MD, director, Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center, Minneapolis.

Susan Zafarlotfi, PhD, clinical director, Institute for Sleep and Wake Disorders, Hackensack University Medical Center, New Jersey.

Mayo Clinic: “Sleep Apnea.”

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