Diabetes, Obesity & Sleep

Obesity underpins diabetes. At the same time being overweight can disrupt your sleep. In addition, low quality sleep can cause you to put on weight.

Finding it difficult to get a good night’s rest could be due to any of a number of reasons. Two of the most common causes are being overweight and obstructive sleep apnoea.

Control you weight and you are a long way down the road to controlling your diabetes. You are also promised a good night’s sleep once you have reached your recommended weight.


Some studies show that people who get less sleep tend to be heavier than those who sleep well.

Being overweight means that your body has more fat cells than it should have taking your physique into account. According to researchers, excess body fat underlies 64% of cases of diabetes in men and 77% of cases in women.

The most recognized sleep-related complication from being overweight or obese is the disrupted breathing that leads to snoring and sleep apnoea.


Excessive fat due to being overweight can be present along the airways. This crowding, combined with added weight pressing from the outside, can collapse an airway and causes problems.

When this is mild, it gives rise to snoring.

Snoring is simply turbulent airflow. In your upper airways, the disrupted airflow becomes noisy and the result is snoring.

Snoring is more likely if you have pre-existing obstructions such as enlarged tonsils or adenoids, a deviated septum in the nose, a small lower jaw or a tongue that is larger than usual.

As the airway becomes more crowded and more prone to collapse, the flow of air can cease completely but temporarily. This results in pauses in breathing called apnoea.


Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is a common sleep disorder marked by loud snoring and pauses in breathing while you sleep.

OSA is most common in people aged 35 to 54 and affects about one-tenth of middle-aged men. It is particularly common in persons who are overweight, and can have an impact on their ability to breathe adequately at night.

There is a link between diabetes and sleep apnoea. That link is excessive weight which, as discussed above, can cause fat deposits around the upper airway and obstruct breathing. So being overweight or obese is a risk factor for sleep apnoea as well as diabetes.

Sleep apnoea plays havoc with sleep patterns which causes many problems. There include being sleepy during the daytime and problems with concentration, memory, and mood.

There are also more serious effects. Sleep apnoea may increase your risk of heart failure, diabetes, hypertension, stroke and sudden death. It can affect the growth and development of children.

Sleep apnoea is thought to be dangerous because it affects the concentration of oxygen within the bloodstream. In the most severe cases, difficulties in breathing at night may cause carbon dioxide to be retained well into the following day.

Normally when we are breathing we take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide.

In some obese people, this becomes so compromised during sleep that excess carbon dioxide is retained in the blood-stream even after they wake up in the morning and persists during the day. This increases their risk of major cardiovascular complications and death.

Sleep apnoea can be an early warning sign of diabetes developing. Indeed, numerous studies have linked obstructive sleep apnoea with greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Experts believe that side effects directly related to sleep apnoea could influence the metabolism of people as they sleep.

The correlation between sleep and diabetes is well-proven, with interruptions to deep sleep a key part of the risk of diabetes. Obesity makes both diabetes and sleep apnoea more likely.

Sleep apnoea can prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep. This can make your diabetes worse or increase your risk of developing diabetes.

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

Restless legs and obesity

In the evenings, many people with diabetes feel discomfort in their legs which is coupled with an urge to move to relieve the symptom. This is known as Restless Legs Syndrome.

Though obesity has been associated with an increased risk of restless legs, the nature of the association between the two is not known.

People with restless legs syndrome often get up and grab a bite to eat during the early part of the night, which seems to provide some relief. Whether these extra calories contribute to obesity is not known.

Sleep causing obesity

There also seems to be a converse relationship between sleep and obesity.

Not only can being overweight or obese reduce the quality of sleep but being deprived of sleep for whatever cause can contribute to gaining weight.

Scientific research suggests that inadequate sleep may lead to hormonal changes that disrupt metabolism. How our body regulates the use and storage of fat may be compromised. Moreover, disrupted sleep may lead to insulin resistance and an increased risk for diabetes.


There are clear relationships between being overweight or obese and difficulties in sleeping.

The most common conditions arising from being overweight may be sleep apnoea which has a variety of unpleasant consequences. There may also be an increased risk of disorders such as restless legs syndrome.

There also seems to be a converse association between disrupted sleep and the risk for obesity, especially when sleep deprivation occurs.

This complex relationship deserves your attention as the effects of poor sleep and obesity together can undermine your health and exacerbate your diabetes. Losing weight will not only help you control your diabetes but it should also help you get a good night’s rest.

Author: Paul Kennedy

Paul D Kennedy is a qualified accountant and an international business consultant who used his skills as a researcher to uncover the mysteries of type 2 diabetes and gain control over his health and wellbeing.

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