How Sleep Apnea Affects Diabetes: 3 Facts You Should Know


sleep apnea & diabetes

Sleep apnea is a condition that goes undiagnosed in up to 50% of Americans with diabetes.

It is a breathing condition that blocks your airway.

When you have a blocked airway your body will wake up and you may not even know it.

If you keep waking up all night, moving positions, and falling back to sleep, you never get the deep sleep needed for hormone balance and repair.

Sleep apnea can also contribute to weight gain and obesity. Research has shown that approximately 40 percent of the people living with obesity also have obstructive sleep apnea, and 70 percent of people with obstructive sleep apnea are obese.


So how does this affect diabetes:


1 – Sleep Loss Can Hinder Your A1c

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults between the ages of 18 and 60 need at least 6-8 hours of sleep per night. However, if you’re sleep-deprived, this may affect your ability to lose weight and sugar levels can go up or down all night long.

This is why every single person who is diagnosed with diabetes should get a sleep apnea test.

But Suzanne, I’m not even overweight.

And even if you are at a normal weight.

Type 2 diabetics have sleep problems due to unstable blood sugar levels and accompanying diabetes-related symptoms, High blood sugar (hyperglycemia) and low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) during the night can lead to insomnia and next-day fatigue.

When blood sugar levels are high, the kidneys overcompensate by causing you to urinate more often. During the night, these frequent trips to the bathroom lead to disrupted sleep.

High blood sugar may also cause headaches, increased thirst, and tiredness that can interfere with falling asleep.


2 – Sleep Restriction Can Increase Your Appetite or diminish your impulse control.

Sleep loss from sleep apnea can also reduce your body’s ability to lose weight efficiently. Studies have shown that even when placed on low-calorie diets, individuals that are sleep deprived lost 55% less weight from fat than individuals that were on the same diet but had sufficient sleep.

This is why you start out great in the morning and stay on your food plan for the day.

By afternoon, those chips are looking awfully good.

But no, you stick to eating your planned dinner.

Evening rolls in like a fog.

The ice cream and cookies win.

One patient told me she goes to bed at 7 PM. She said that’s the only way she doesn’t eat.


There are two hormones for appetite control 

Leptin is meant to decrease your appetite

Ghrelin is intended to increase it.

Sleep apnea patients are known to have significantly higher ghrelin levels, the hormone that makes you feel hungry, and significantly lower leptin levels, the hormone that makes you feel full.

This means that individuals with obstructive sleep apnea are more likely to feel hungry and consume more calories.

The Mediterranean diet is the best diet for increasing your leptin levels so you will resist those temptations.

But again, without ruling out sleep apnea, you are fighting an uphill battle.

Sleep apnea may also affect blood sugar levels due to its effects on insulin, cortisol, and oxidative stress.

Cortisol has a significant effect on insulin.  It also has anti-inflammatory properties to help with your pain, and it has an effect on your blood pressure.

Oxidative Stress is your cell’s ability to repair and “take out the trash” in your body.

So even if you’re normal weight, your doctor wants to test you for sleep apnea, so you will not crave the wrong foods later on in the day.

 3 – Other Complications from Sleep Apnea

NOTE: ⚠ Do not confuse sleep apnea with lack of sleep. Many people sleep 3-5 hours a night and they are perfectly fine. This is not about getting more sleep. It’s about getting UNINTERRUPTED sleep. Some folks can live with 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep just fine.

Having said this, according to the CDC, if you get less than 7 hours of sleep per night regularly, your diabetes will be harder to manage.

Too little sleep can:

  • Increase insulin resistance.
  • Make you hungrier the next day and reduce how full you feel after eating.
  • Make you more likely to reach for junk foods—those that are high in carbs and sugar.
  • Make it harder to lose weight.
  • Raise blood pressure and seriously increase the risk of a heart attack.
  • Make your immune system less able to fight infections.
  • Increase your risk of depression and anxiety.
  • By contrast, going too many hours without eating or taking the wrong balance of diabetes medication can also lead to low blood sugar levels. You may have nightmares, break out into a sweat, or feel irritated or confused when you wake up.


Talk to your healthcare provider if you are experiencing:

  • fatigue
  • trouble sleeping
  • anxiety
  • confusion
  • can’t lose weight
  • food cravings
  • headaches

And Get my FREE Fastrack To Your A1c Goals Guide.  I talk about sleep apnea and other potential problems that are holding you back from reaching your weight and A1c goals. Your doctor has to order the appropriate tests.

About the Author

Do you feel frustrated with your medical care? Do doctors spend 5 minutes with you, push you out of the office, with you wondering what's going to happen? Does your insurance deny paying? You're not alone. I'm frustrated, too. This is a growing trend in healthcare. Having seen pre-insurance medicine (yes, my dad was an old country doctor), I grew up watching him spend time with his patients, giving them the best care he had to offer. I saw families trust him to help them through hospitalizations and the next crisis. As a patient advocate, my job is to see that you get the right diagnosis, the right treatment plans, and the right supplies and education to make good decisions about your health. More importantly, I will teach you the tricks of the healthcare trade. We need more healthcare consumer protection, especially for chronic illnesses like diabetes. This is what I am passionate about. I make it happen every day with thousands of patients who now know what I know about beating the healthcare system and getting the best patient care...Patient Best.

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