Even as I’m typing this, my eyes are watering and I’m suppressing a yawn.
Yes, I live with type 1 diabetes and regularly don’t get enough sleep — the two often go hand-in-hand. Whether it be the need to get up and check my blood sugar level or respond to a D-device alarm, or the actual result of a BG low or high, my sleep patterns suffer thanks to diabetes.
The struggle is real across our D-Community. Just take a look at this infographic on Sleep and Diabetes, to see how much of a concern it can be. These issues can lead not only to general fatigue and increased stress, but more out-of-range blood sugars along with a litany of food and routine variances that mess with D-management.
Fortunately, sleeping aids exist for people with diabetes to help improve their shut-eye experiences.
Over the years, some have opined that “any kind of sleep aid is taboo” for those living with diabetes (especially those on insulin), but that’s a myth (aka #FakeNews). As March last week was Sleep Awareness Week, it’s an apropos time to explore a bit.
Medication for Sleep Woes?
While there really aren’t any sleep aids out there designed specifically for PWDs (people with diabetes), many often talk about Melatonin as an option to help with sleep issues. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in your system that helps to control your sleep and wake cycles. Unlike insulin, Melatonin is a hormone that is synthetically made and can be ingested, so a natural supplement in pill form is available over-the-counter (usually found in the vitamin section of your local grocery store).
According to the American Diabetes Association, there is some concern that taking Melatonin could increase insulin resistance. But that hasn’t stopped many from recommending it, trying it out, and building up a tolerance.
Fellow T1 Kelley Champ Crumpler in Texas, who’s a diabetes nurse educator by trade, usually recommends Melatonin to treat sleeping problems.
“We have them start with a small 1mg tablet before bed, and can taper up as needed,” Kelley tells us. “Melatonin won’t render you useless like other sleep aid/hypnotics will. It’s even safe for children to use.”
If that doesn’t work, Kelley recommends using an antihistamine that contains either diphenhydramine (found in Benadryl or nighttime pain relievers like Tylenol PM or Advil PM) or doxyalimine (found in the over-the-counter sleep-aid tablets Unisom).
Anecdotal evidence on some online diabetes forums shows that Melatonin and antihistamines are the most popular way of treating insomnia. These meds are also “light” enough that they won’t knock you such that you wouldn’t wake up naturally in an emergency, or from a low blood sugar — which is always the big worry with PWDs. Overnight hypoglycemia or hypoglycemia unawareness is the number one cause for concern, which is why Kelley encourages testing blood sugar at bedtime or wearing a CGM if you have access to one.
An App for That
Others in our Diabetes Community rely on technology to help with recognizing sleeping patterns and improving habits.
These days, many wearables and activity trackers can actually keep tabs on sleep patterns.
D-peep Adam Brown over at diaTribe has included a section on sleep in his first-published book that came out last year called Bright Spots and Landmines. He includes a whole host of tips and tricks that work for him. While 7 hours of sleep may not seem realistic for everyone, that’s one key recommendation by Adam that is backed up by science.
Adam notes: “There is a mobile app called Sleep Cycle that tracks your movement while in bed and shows key times and ways that you’re not sleeping soundly. There are also some now that attach to pillows and mattresses, and there’s an endless amount of reading out there in Google-Land about the benefits of better beds and pillows for restful sleep.”
Sleep Cycle actually ranked No. 1 on this list of Best Insomnia Apps from our parent company, Healthline. The other 10 on the list all get 4-5 star user ratings as well. And you can choose your weapon here — from an app that lulls you to sleep with soothing nature sounds (Nature Sounds Relax and Sleep) to one that “prescribes” guided meditations (Digipill) to one that “uses neurosensory algorithms to create sounds that guide your brain through the complete sleep cycle” (Sleep Genius).
What about you, D-friends? Got any tips for better sleep to share?