Can’t Sleep? Here’s Help!

Diabetes doesn’t have to lead to tossing and turning. Try these four tips to sleep soundly tonight.

Maria Lissandrello
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A good night’s sleep. Everybody craves it, yet it’s not always easy to get—especially for people with diabetes. Among the reasons: People with the condition are more likely to have sleep apnea, a condition marked by breathing interruptions. Painful neuropathy can also be a culprit, as can middle-of-the-night blood sugar lows that can cause you to bolt awake in a sweaty panic.

Thing is, for people with diabetes, sleep trouble isn’t just a nuisance—it can actually make it harder to manage the disease. For starters, it boosts insulin resistance and increases levels of hunger hormones, which pave the way for weight gain. And an Archives of Internal Medicine study linked poor sleep to higher A1C levels. So what if you’ve tried the usual—blackened your room, set your thermostat to 68° and written your worries down on a piece of paper before lights out—but you’re still tossing and turning? Talk to your healthcare team, and consider these strategies:

Aim for this bedtime target. It’s the blood sugar level that will help you sleep most soundly. For most people that’s between 100 and 140, but check with your diabetes care team to find out what’s best for you—and try your best to reach it. Going to sleep with high blood sugar is a setup for frequent bathroom visits, while low blood sugar can prime you for nightmares, next-day tiredness and worse. Experiment with dinner combos that get you where you want to be, and avoid eating within three hours of turning in.

Cast aside alcohol. Not only does it affect your blood sugar levels, it can also relax and even narrow your airways, making it harder to breathe—even for those without sleep apnea. Plus, drinking alcohol within six hours of bedtime disrupts the second half of your sleep cycle, causing wakefulness. 

Slip on socks. Right before you fall asleep, your body boosts circulation to the hands and feet, warming them, according to researchers at the Weill Cornell Center for Sleep Medicine in New York City. Simulate the effect by wearing socks (and gloves, if you like), so you’re primed to drift off.

Treat underlying problems.
In addition to sleep apnea, diabetes raises your risk of restless legs syndrome, a disorder that makes it hard to fall asleep and/or stay asleep because of uncomfortable tingling sensations in the legs. Talk to your healthcare provider if you suspect you have either condition. The good news? Treating sleep apnea can also help improve blood sugar levels, according to a study in Archives of Internal Medicine.

April 2013