Sleep Apnea and Diabetes

man snoring next to disgruntled wife
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The amount and quality of sleep a person gets each night is important in regulating energy levels and weight as well as controlling blood sugar. Research suggests that insufficient sleep is associated with weight gain and obesity, an independent risk factor for developing with Type 2 diabetes. People who have sleep disorders are also at an increased risk of developing diabetes.

It is estimated that 86% of people with Type 2 diabetes have Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), a sleep condition in which people experience shallow breathing or one or more pauses in breathing while they are sleeping. This happens because the airway is blocked (typically due to extra fat in the neck) when the mouth and throat relax during sleep for more than 10 seconds. According to researchers, OSA adversely affects glucose control in patients with Type 2 diabetes and is often undiagnosed. In addition to disrupting the sufferer's quality of life, OSA can be disruptive to partners because it is often accompanied by snoring. Having a partner who snores is difficult especially when they wake up feeling cranky and irritable because of a restless night.


The good news is that there is a treatment for OSA. People with OSA are advised to treat their disorder using CPAP (continued positive airway pressure) therapy via a CPAP machine. The machine is connected to a mask specially made to fit a person's face for a more comfortable fit. CPAP helps a person to breath by increasing the air pressure in the throat so that the airway doesn't collapse on inhalation.

A recent study suggests that those persons with diabetes who use a CPAP machine had significant reductions in blood sugars and blood pressure. If you are someone with diabetes and have been given a CPAP machine but are not using it because it is uncomfortable or inconvenient, you may want to reconsider. Not only can untreated sleep apnea affect your blood sugar control, the American Diabetes Association says, it can also increase your risk of heart attack or stroke and work-related and driving accidents. Also, lack of energy can decrease your motivation to take care of your diabetes—manage your medicines, exercise, and eat healthy. Ask your medical provider to re-fit your mask for a more comfortable fit. If you simply can't wear your mask, ask your physician about alternative treatment options. 

The other good news is that if you are overweight and have obstructive sleep apnea and lose a sufficient amount of weight, you can get rid of it. This may sound like a daunting task, but any amount of weight loss is good for your health. Losing weight can help to reduce blood sugars, increase energy, improve cholesterol and blood pressure.

If, on the other hand, you are not sure if you have OSA, but often feel tired throughout the day or not well rested when you wake up you may want to be tested. Or if you or your partner are snoring throughout the night get checked. People who are most at risk are:

  • males 
  • smokers
  • people with diabetes
  • people who are overweight or obese
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