Managing type 2 diabetes takes significant effort on a variety of fronts. These include watching your carb and calorie intake; working out every day or nearly every day; taking your meds, if necessary; and pricking your finger periodically throughout the day to measure your blood glucose levels.
By comparison, sleep seems like the simple part of T2D management. You lie down, doze off, and then wake up seven or eight hours later, feeling refreshed. Big deal, right?
It is, actually, as Americans face a chronic sleep shortage. The actual sleep needs of a young adult has been estimated at 8.5 hours, yet only 14 percent of them report sleeping that long or more on weekdays. They’re not the only ones getting shortchanged, either. A study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that while subjects averaged 7.5 hours in bed, they were asleep for barely more than six hours.
Proper sleep is a critical aspect of managing wayward blood sugar and—as I mention in my book Sugar Nation—the area where I most often fall short in managing my own pre-diabetic condition. Quality sleep is important for metabolic and endocrine function, and research shows that not getting enough of it may be a contributing factor to obesity and diabetes. Obesity often causes obstructive sleep apnea, which in turn can further disrupt metabolic health.
Lack of sleep is also harmful to your heart, and heart disease and diabetes often go hand in hand. In a study of 218,155 Australian adults ages 45 and older, participants who slept six hours were at greater risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and hypertension than those who slept seven hours. Even one hour makes a big difference.
Short sleep leads to diabetes in part because it leads to weight gain. After analyzing data from the 2008 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey, researchers found a strong association between poor sleep quality and BMI (body mass index) levels in U.S. adults. Normal-weight people reported not getting enough sleep on 7.9 days over the preceding month, while those in the highest weight category reported 10.5 days of insufficient sleep.
Equally important for diabetics is the sleep-exercise connection. Exercise is essential for managing diabetes, and people who get a healthy amount of sleep may be more likely to exercise than those who don’t. When scientists evaluated the health of more than 8,000 Japanese men, they found a link between healthy sleep duration and regular exercise. Participants who banked at least seven hours a night were the most likely to exercise regularly. Likewise, those who got less than five hours had the most irregular exercise habits.
So how can you avoid the pitfalls of not getting enough quantity and quality of the sleep you need? Work out regularly, for starters. In a study of about 3,000 adults aged 18 to 85, getting 150 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous exercise was linked to a 65 percent improvement in quality of sleep.
Another key strategy is to avoid simple sugars before bed. These can spike your blood sugar, leading to a nocturnal crash. Your glucose-starved brain will detect this change and sound internal alarms that will wake up. It’s a survival instinct.
So if poor sleep is wreaking havoc with your type 2 diabetes care, it’s time to wake up and understand that one of the best ways to fight your disease is to get seven to eight hours of quality sleep a night.