There is a complex but important relationship between sleep and diabetes. This is why experts continue to study the link between the two. What experts already know is that the quality and quantity of sleep each night can have a pronounced impact on the risk of developing and worsening type 2 diabetes.
Poor sleep increases the likelihood of developing diabetes either indirectly or directly. How much sleep a person gets significantly affects the body’s production and regulation of hormones which in turn affect blood sugar.
A lack of sleep affects other aspects of a person’s lifestyle habits, such as their physical activity and dietary habits. In other words, the link between sleep and diabetes is significant… and complicated.
Poor Sleep Leads to Obesity
The link between sleep and type 2 diabetes starts with obesity. Research shows that almost 90% of type 2 diabetics are obese. Data from numerous studies has shown that sleep deprivation can increase the chances of becoming overweight and obese.
This is because of the following:
People who don’t get enough sleep are less likely to exercise. They just don’t feel energetic. They feel fatigued and exercising sounds too much like hard work.
Insufficient sleep increases a person’s tendency to make poor food choices. A pizza or a few donuts is easier to pick up than making the effort to prepare a bowl of salad or cook a healthy ‘home-cooked’ meal.
Staying awake all night also means more time spent eating. Studies show that people who have the habit of staying up late consume 550 more calories than people who go to bed early.
Lacking sleep messes with the body’s hormones. When the body experiences a lack of sleep, it produces more weight gaining hormones, specifically cortisol and ghrelin.
If cortisol levels increase due to a lack of sleep, insulin resistance can also begin to develop. Since insulin plays a critical role in regulating blood sugar levels, being insulin resistant means the body becomes less capable of transporting energy to the cells, and out of the blood stream.
Blood Sugar Regulation and The Body’s Sleep-Wake Cycle
Your body’s endocrine system functions according to the body’s sleep-wake cycle. This is why poor sleep leads to the poor ability to regulate blood sugar levels.
When there are disruptions regarding an individual’s sleep pattern, the body’s ability to metabolize glucose can also be affected. If sleep deprivation goes on for days, or if it happens often, it may result in reduced insulin sensitivity.
It also has an effect on the production of appetite hormones. In turn, the person can find themselves constantly craving for midnight snacks (usually not the healthiest food choices) while also still experiencing intense hunger the following morning.
Sleep Apnea and Diabetes
Individuals diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are more likely to develop sleep apnea. Conversely, those patients who have sleep apnea also face a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, due to their poor sleep patterns caused by sleep apnea. Research shows that more than 50% of individuals with type 2 diabetes also suffer from sleep disturbance.
Sleep apnea is also found to disrupt the body’s metabolic pathways. This increases a person’s likelihood of having an insulin resistance and glucose intolerance. For people that do not have diabetes, their risk of becoming pre-diabetic also increases, since sleep apnea contributes to poor glucose control.
Insufficient Sleep Increases Production of Fatty Acids
A lack of sleep has also been found to result in the increased levels of free fatty acids in the blood. It doesn’t take years of insufficient sleep to experience these adverse effects.
Research shows that not getting enough sleep for just one night can cause a 30% increase in the production of free fatty acids. Unfortunately, these fatty acids work to reduce insulin sensitivity.