Better Sleep for People with Diabetes

David Mendosa | March 24, 2015

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The right amount of sleep at the right time will help you in many ways, particularly if you have diabetes.

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How much sleep are we getting?

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Most of us have a “sleep debt.” Several studies show that Americans typically get less than 7 hours of sleep per night. One poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation pinpoints the average amount during the workweek at six hours and 55 minutes.

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Can a sleep debt lead to diabetes?

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Yes. A study of 522 people who had recently learned that they have type 2 diabetes indicates that for every 30 minutes of weekday sleep debt they had a 39 percent increased risk of insulin resistance, which can progress to diabetes.

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How much sleep is enough?

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Sleep researchers agree that we need between 7 and 8 hours of sleep per night, according to “The Right Amount of Sleep to Avoid Diabetes.” But the right amount for you may vary, and younger people need more, according to an expert panel of the National Sleep Foundation (see both pages).

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Can we get too much sleep?

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Some researchers think that getting too much sleep is unhealthy, as you can read at “The Right Amount of Sleep to Avoid Diabetes.” And a separate study in the February 2015 issue of Neurology found that people who sleep more than eight hours a night may have an increased risk of stroke. But we don’t know yet whether getting too much sleep is the cause of the problem or an effect of it.

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How does sleep help?

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We know now why getting enough sleep is crucial for people with diabetes. A new study shows that when we don’t get enough of it, the free fatty acids in our blood rise. That disrupts our fat metabolism and reduces the ability of our insulin to regulate blood sugar.

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What to avoid so we can sleep better?

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Watching TV, working on a computer, and other activities involving artificial light in the evening can disrupt our sleep patterns. A recent study shows that other activities, like reading the old-fashioned way on paper or on an eReader that isn’t a light-emitting electronic device (like the original Amazon Kindle), are better alternatives.

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Is there a shortcut to make up a sleep debt?

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Yes, if we make up the deficit as soon as we can. Taking even a short nap of 30 minutes can reverse the ill effects of insufficient sleep, researchers in France have found.

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Sleep more to weigh less

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Another study shows that when people get six hours of sleep or less each night, they eat the most and are the heaviest. Although people who slept less also expended more calories in physical activity, this wasn’t enough to compensate for eating more.

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I have sleep apnea and diabetes. Are they connected?

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The large proportion of people who have diabetes and who also have sleep apnea indicates that it’s a complication of diabetes. About 40 percent of all men who have type 2 diabetes also have sleep apnea, according to research led by Daniel Einhorn, the director of the Sharp Diabetes Treatment and Research Center in San Diego. The proportion went up to 61 percent among men older than 65.

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What can I do if I have sleep apnea?

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In the short run you can overcome sleep apnea by using a CPAP machine and wearing a sleep mask. That works, but you can do even better. Getting down to a normal weight, as this article shows, lets you conquer sleep apnea.