The quality of your sleep can affect your blood glucose levels and your blood glucose levels can affect the quality of your sleep. So how can you get a good night’s sleep?
Finding it difficult to get a good night’s rest can be due to fluctuating blood glucose levels that go too low or too high during the night.
Conversely, a poor sleeping pattern can adversely affect your blood sugar levels.
Night-time hypoglycaemia refers to blood glucose dropping to dangerously low levels during the night.
Your blood glucose levels can also reach dangerously high levels when you are asleep.
If your blood sugar levels go too high or too low during the night, you will probably find that you feel tired the whole of the following day. Indeed lethargy and insomnia can both have their roots in poor blood sugar control.
Getting on top of your blood glucose levels can be the key to a healthful sleep.
Low blood glucose at night
Night-time hypoglycaemia affects nearly everyone with type 1 diabetes. It also affects a significant minority of type 2 diabetics.
Here’s what happens.
Glucagon is a hormone that raises blood glucose levels. It is released by the pancreas when blood sugar levels fall too low. It works by causing the liver to convert stored glycogen into glucose, which is released into the bloodstream.
The problem is that glucagon production is lower when you are asleep. This means that, as your glucose levels fall during the night, not enough glucagon is released to bring your blood glucose level back up again.
At the same time your blood glucose is continuously falling as the time since your last meal or snack is getting longer and longer.
It can be difficult to know when you have night-time hypoglycaemia as the symptoms may not be apparent during sleep. Waking up in the morning feeling tired, irritable or confused, or feeling damp from perspiration suggests that you may have experienced this hypo.
Other symptoms include crying out during the night or having nightmares. Your sleeping partner will be able to tell you if you have been making noises during the night.
You may also experience blood glucose levels in the morning that are higher than usual, which is due to your blood sugar levels rebounding from their low level when you wake up. This is known as the Somogyi effect.
The problem with night-time hypoglycaemia is that if you don’t wake up when you are having an episode, your low blood sugar will remain untreated and become more pronounced, which can be dangerous.
If you suspect that you are having bouts of night-time hypoglycaemia, you should test your blood before you go to bed and when you wake up. Alternatively you could wear a continuous blood glucose monitor which can sound an alert if your blood sugar goes too high or too low.
To prevent night-time hypoglycaemia, try to maintain a consistent routine of diet and activities in the evening.
A snack before bed can also help.
High blood glucose at night
The link between high blood glucose levels and poor quality sleep has been well established by researchers.
If, when you try to fall asleep, your blood sugar level is high, you will sleep poorly. There are two possible reasons for this.
It could be that the high level makes you feel too warm to get a good night’s sleep or too irritable and unsettled.
Another reason is that you will need to get up and go to the toilet many times during the night.
Indeed, any time your blood sugar is really high, your kidneys are trying to get rid of the excess sugar through urination. If this happens when you are in bed, you will be getting up and going to bathroom all night long and therefore not sleeping well.
There is also a converse link between blood glucose and the quality of sleep.
How lack of sleep affects blood glucose levels
There is evidence that not sleeping well (for other reasons) can make your diabetes harder to control or, if you are not yet diabetic, increase your risk of developing the disease.
There are several possible reasons for this.
It may be that people who regularly lack sleep feel tired through the day and are more likely to eat comfort foods, a no-no if you already have full blown diabetes or even if you are prediabetic.
In addition, a good night’s sleep is important for the hormones that regulate a large number of the body’s processes, such as the immune system, appetite and weight control. The last two processes can have a direct affect on your diabetes.
Eating properly during the day and getting your blood sugar under control will help you sleep better at night. And if you get your blood sugar under control, you will get a good night sleep and wake up with lots of energy.
The need for sleep
In general, people with diabetes have to be very careful about sleep because a lack of sleep means that they feel fatigued and have little energy during the day. This can induce them to ingest sugar in order to get going.
Proper sleep is important for people with diabetes. But how much sleep do you actually need?
There is no magic formula for figuring it out. The amount of sleep you need to function optimally varies from person to person. It is determined by your genes.
Generally speaking, however, people need about 7.5 hours a night on average. But this can vary from four hours up to eleven hours.
However, figuring how much sleep you need is easy. Use an alarm clock. If you are getting enough quality sleep, you should wake up before the alarm goes off.
Tips for getting a good night’s sleep
There are several things you can do to get a good night’s sleep:
- Keep your blood glucose under control using diet and/or medications.
- Get some exercise every day.
- Go to bed at a regular time each night.
- Make sure your bed is comfortably large with a good mattress and supportive pillows.
- Ensure your bedroom is cool, well ventilated, dark and noise free.