We have all experienced the miserable short-term and long-term after-effects of a poor night’s sleep. This is also the case for people with diabetes, and especially type 1 diabetes, who suffer from problems associated with chronic sleep deprivation. You can learn more about the different types of diabetes here.
Several research studies have revealed that patients with diabetes are more likely to complain of sleep deprivation or poor quality of sleep. This link between type 1 diabetes and sleeplessness could be attributed to the lack of efficient blood sugar management and even the poor overall health of the patient.
There are several ways by which diabetes can affect the sleep of a person. Hence, there is a need to understand the underlying mechanisms that link diabetes and sleep. It is also important to be aware of the right ways to avoid the impact of diabetes on sleep.
Here are the common sleeping disorders that are likely to affect patients with diabetes and the best ways to maintain a healthy sleep routine and avoid the impact of sleep deprivation on your physical and mental health.
How Can Type 1 Diabetes Affect Sleep?
Type 1 diabetes can affect sleep by increasing the risk of several sleep disorders. Diabetes can also affect the mental health of a person due to which he or she may feel stressed out. The constant anxiety or fear associated with the risk of developing diabetic complications could also be responsible for affecting the duration and quality of sleep in patients with diabetes.
Here are some common sleep disorders that are likely to affect diabetic patients and the most efficient ways to manage them.
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What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a disorder characterized by frequent awakening that occurs due to the gaps in breathing. A patient with sleep apnea may stop and start breathing repeatedly during sleep, which prevents him from entering the deeper phase of sleep.
The common warning signs of sleep apnea include excessive snoring during sleep and daytime drowsiness that could be attributed to the lack of sleep at night.
Types of Sleep Apnea
Central sleep apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea
This form of sleep apnea occurs when the air passages in the upper respiratory tract, especially the throat region, have become narrow. The narrowing of this part of the air passages results in the obstruction to the flow of oxygen.
This can lead to the reduction of the oxygen levels eventually causing the brain to trigger a response that wakes up the patient. The patient may wake up only for a few seconds that is just enough to take a deep breath to reopen the blocked air passages.
Both these forms of sleep apnea can prevent the patients from getting deep restorative sleep of 8 hours at night that is needed to wake up feeling fresh and alert in the morning hours.
Scientific research has highlighted a close link between type 1 and type 2 diabetes and the increased risk for sleep apnea.
Studies have shown that the prevalence of obesity is very high in patients with diabetes. Obesity, in turn, contributes to the development of sleep apnea by creating an obstruction to the flow of air as a result of the deposition of excess fats in the walls of the air passages.
Also, the risk of developing sleep apnea is high in patients who have uncontrolled diabetes as against those who have a good control over their blood sugar levels. The risk also increases with the duration of diabetes. The longer a person suffers from uncontrolled diabetes, the higher would be his risk of developing sleep apnea.
What Should You Do if You Suffer From Sleep Apnea?
Patients who feel extremely tired, or depressed due to the lack of sleep and are having difficulties in controlling their blood sugar in spite of following a healthy lifestyle could be suffering from sleep apnea.
The best way to address this issue is to conduct a sleep study to identify the exact cause of sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea can be treated with the help of oral breathing devices that need to be worn while sleeping. The use of a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device that aids in breathing is also recommended, especially for patients who suffer from severe sleep apnea that does not respond to other treatments. A CPAP device basically works by forcing a small amount of oxygen into the airways thus preventing the breathing from ceasing or being interrupted.
Though the masks or CPAP devices might feel uncomfortable to use initially, with regular use, most patients are able to get accustomed to them. Regular use of these devices can prevent frequent awakening and improve the quality and duration of sleep.
Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless leg syndrome is one of the common sleep disorders characterized by the unpleasant crawling, tingling, creeping, and painful sensations in the legs that occur while at rest. The patient may feel normal and not experience any symptoms during the daytime or while he is in motion.
However, within a short duration after he sleeps or settles to rest, he begins to experience an unpleasant sensation in the legs that lead to an uncontrollable urge to kick or move them.
This condition is usually caused due to a persistently increased blood glucose level in patients with diabetes. Other than diabetes, patients with pre-existing thyroid disorders and renal problems are also likely to develop restless leg syndrome.
What Should You Do If You Suffer From Restless Leg Syndrome?
Unfortunately, there are no specific tests for confirming the diagnosis of restless leg syndrome. Hence, doctors often have to rely on the symptoms experienced by the patient for seeking a possible diagnosis.
Proper control of blood sugar levels is often helpful in such cases to relieve the symptoms of the condition.
There are several medications such as dopaminergic agents, benzodiazepines, and anticonvulsants that can help to relieve the symptoms of this condition and improve the sleep quality.
If the urge to kick about or move the legs persists or does not go away after performing movements, an additional test may be needed to rule out associated conditions such as diabetic neuropathy.
Patients with diabetes are advised to adopt healthy dietary and lifestyle interventions to control their symptoms and improve their sleep quality.
Reducing their intake of foods containing a high amount of sugars and fats can help to reduce their blood sugar levels and even relieve the symptoms of restless leg syndrome. Similarly, cutting down on the caffeine intake is also advised as too much of this stimulant can worsen the symptoms of this condition.
Avoiding other triggers such as smoking and alcohol is also an effective strategy for controlling the symptoms of restless leg syndrome.
Regular exercises, hot or cold compresses, leg massage, and performing stretching exercises before bedtime may also provide significant relief.
A large number of diabetic seizures tend to occur at night while the person is sleeping. A very low blood sugar level is often the root cause of seizures in these cases.
Patients with type 1 diabetes are advised to be watchful for the warning signs of the decline in the blood sugar levels like dizziness or fatigue while they are awake.
However, it is too difficult to be watchful of these signs during sleep. Hence, taking diabetic medications including insulin injections and monitoring your blood sugar levels at regular intervals is recommended to get a better idea of how well you are able to control diabetes.
What Should You Do if You Suffer With Night Seizures?
Regular blood glucose monitoring and the use of insulin pumps are often effective for reducing the risk of diabetic seizures occurring at night. Most patients who use insulin pumps report sleeping through the alarms that are triggered by the device when the blood glucose level dips below the specified limit. Some devices have a feature that enables constant monitoring, which predicts the spikes and dips in the blood sugar levels, and in the process, also suspends the insulin delivery even while the patient is asleep.
Continuous glucose monitoring is also helpful for keeping watch on the fluctuations in the blood glucose levels and be able to take necessary precautions when the record shows a very low level that could put you at a risk of developing seizures.
How You Can Reduce Sleep Deprivation?
Set a Sleeping Routine
The human body is tuned to follow its own biological rhythm, also called the circadian rhythm, which, when disrupted, could lead to a poor sleep-wake pattern.
Going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning would regulate the biological rhythm and help you sleep well at night.
Avoiding intense physical activities like exercising, limiting the intake of stimulants such as caffeinated beverages and smoking, and minimizing the use of electric gadgets before the bedtime could reduce the sleep onset latency and help you fall asleep in a shorter duration.
Stay Away From All Screens
Blue light emitted from smartphones, laptops, and other similar devices is processed by the brain in a similar manner as it processes the sunlight.
Studies have shown that blue light can trick the brain into believing it is still the daytime thus preventing it from creating an internal environment suitable for promoting sleep. Hence, it is advisable to avoid the use of these devices before the bedtime in order to improve the sleep quality.
Create a Calming Environment
Setting up a disruption-free external environment by making sure your bedroom is dark could help the muscles in your body to enter the state of relaxation needed to fall asleep more easily.
Avoiding distractions such as lights and sounds is also recommended for improving the sleep quality.
If your sleep problem is related to diabetes, making some healthy changes to your bedtime routine is highly recommended. Small lifestyle changes can make wonders in preventing sleep deprivation and its consequences such as depression, reduced alertness, and loss of cognitive functions.