Sleep Apnea and Diabetes

Sleep Apnea and Diabetes

We aren’t our best without a good night’s rest. We struggle to find the energy needed to get through the day leaving us tired day after day. New research indicates that being tired is not the only risk of a poor night’s sleep for patients that suffer from Type-2 diabetes. This sleepiness worsens glucose control, increases blood pressure and makes it harder to lose weight and stick to a regular exercise regime. The relationship between diabetes and a common sleep disorder, sleep apnea, are becoming clearer. Anyone with both Type-2 diabetes and sleep apnea is at risk for increased glucose intolerance.

Healthy sleep is essential for a healthy life because our quality of sleep affects our overall well-being. Normal sleep is generally composed of two main states, non-rapid eye movement (called non-REM) and rapid eye movement (called REM) sleep. Non-REM sleep makes up about 80% of our sleep and includes the occurrence of hormone release, which is very important to allow the body to function. REM sleep accounts for about 20% of the night and is the stage of “deep” sleep where dreams occur. Sleep apnea interrupts both non-REM and REM sleep. The interruption of both stages of sleep does not allow systems, like your heart, to rest and recover as they normally would.

During sleep, the upper airway collapses obstructing airflow from moving through the airway. Sleep apnea affects about 1 in 5 people. People with sleep apnea stop breathing while they’re asleep, sometimes hundreds of times a night. A bed partner may even witness these gasps that are followed by a coughing sound, which opens the airway again.  Common symptoms of OSA include: snoring, constant tiredness, poor concentration, depression, lack of energy, weight gain or loss and high blood pressure.

Sleep apnea affects 20 million adults and has also been closely linked to high blood pressure, heart failure and obesity.  Additionally, scientists have tied sleep apnea to diabetes. In fact, new research shows treating sleep apnea can lower blood sugar levels, which may cut the risk of complications from heart disease and nerve damage.

Treating Sleep Apnea

The good news is that sleep apnea is easily treatable without surgery or taking pills. The sleep disorder is commonly treated with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). A bedside device gently delivers pressurized air through a small nasal mask or pillows system. This pressure acts like an “air splint” to keep the upper airway open throughout the night.

Diabetes and Sleep Apnea

More than half of patients that suffer from diabetes have sleep apnea, but there is good news! Research has shown that CPAP therapy in patients that suffer from diabetes can improve glucose control and decrease other cardiac risks. There have been many cases where blood pressure did not come under control through taking pills, but after treating sleep apnea, blood pressure was lowered. Treating sleep apnea: increases energy, lowers blood glucose, lowers blood pressure and helps the heart work better- (put in callout box/table)


If you have diabetes it is important that you sleep well. Please talk to your diabetes caregiver or your family doctor about these symptoms to see if further evaluation is required. If your clinician finds that you have symptoms of sleep apnea, you will be sent to a sleep specialist for an overnight evaluation. If you test positive for sleep apnea, the sleep specialist will write you a prescription for CPAP therapy. This treatment is covered by most all insurance.

Certainly, more research is needed to understand the relationship between sleep apnea and diabetes, but it is clear that sleep apnea therapy can help your diabetes and make you feel better. Most importantly, healthy sleep is fundamental for a healthy life.