Is there a connection between diabetes and sleep? As an individual living with diabetes, you are constantly hearing about the important role that physical activity plays in maintaining optimum health. But what about the need for time spent inactive and asleep? How many hours of sleep should you ideally be getting each day?
Sleep affects our daily health in numerous ways. A good night’s sleep can help maintain mental sharpness and concentration and boost the immune system along with other major body functions. But it’s important to get the correct amount.
Studies show that getting too little or too much sleep can both have negative effects.
The right amount of sleep
Various factors affect how much sleep is required each night. But in general, the following guidelines are recommended:
School-aged children: 9-11 hours
Adults: 7-8 hours
Women in the first months of pregnancy often need more sleep than usual. People usually need more sleep than usual when recovering from major surgery or illness, or after a major time-zone change.
Diabetes and sleep – avoid too much or too little sleep
The Centers for Disease Control in the U.S. conducted a large-scale study that found both too little and too much sleep are associated with a range of health conditions. These include diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The study came from 14 states, with over 54,000 participants over the age of 45. All had taken part in the CDC’s Behavioural Risk Factor Surveillance System.
In the study, 10 or more hours was defined as being ‘too much sleep’, and ideal sleep time was defined as being 7-9 hours per night.
Both short or long sleepers were associated with higher risks of diabetes and coronary heart disease and stroke. Long sleepers had an even higher risk than short sleepers.
Other studies conducted by New York’s Columbia University and by Spain’s University Hospital Madrid have found that older adults who sleep more than 9 hours a night often experience a greater decline in mental function than those who sleep a normal amount.
The relationship between less than healthy sleep duration and health factors are complicated, and the researchers pointed out that more study is needed to understand the connection with chronic disease risk. Meanwhile, where possible it would seem to make sense to aim for the middle ground of 7-8 hours sleep a night, and certainly no more than 9 hours.
Diabetes and sleep challenges
Many people with diabetes suffer from disrupted or insufficient sleep. Causes of sleep problems can include:
Pain from neuropathy: leg pain disturbs sleep for many individuals with diabetes. Talk to your diabetes health care team if this affects you. Medications are available to treat the pain, and many have the benefit of a gentle sedative effect to aid with sleep.
For more information, read Dr. Maureen Clement’s expert blog article: Diabetes can get on your nerves: what is diabetic neuropathy?
Sleep apnea: many people with diabetes experience sleep apnea, particularly those who are overweight. Discuss the situation with your diabetes team.
Night-time lows: some medications can add to the risk of night-time lows. Sugary snacks before bed can also spike blood sugar levels, leading to a sudden crash during the night. Instead of a sugary bedtime snack, aim for a healthy nibble like a couple of whole grain crackers with low-fat cheese, or slices of pear or apple spread with peanut butter.
Check out more ideas for healthy snacks in our article 10 diabetes snacks.
If you liked this article, sign-up to receive our Living Well with Diabetes newsletter which includes information on eating, exercise, medication and other diabetes management recommendations. Sign up now!