What’s Sleep Got To Do With It?

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gabbay-lab-coatHow did you feel this morning? Well-rested? Or did you wake, feeling even more tired than when you drifted off last night?

Our hectic, stress-filled lifestyles mean that one in three of us now sleep for less than the recommended seven hours a night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The problem is that chronic, cumulative sleep loss can be harmful. Research shows that too little sleep increases your risk of type 2 diabetes by changing the way your body processes glucose. In sleep-deprived people, the body releases stress hormones, which can adversely affect blood sugar levels.

Over the last couple of years it’s become clear that people who have poor-quality sleep or don’t get enough sleep are more resistant to insulin, says Robert A. Gabbay, M.D., Ph.D., Chief Medical Officer and Senior Vice President at Joslin Diabetes Center. “It’s very clear that sleep loss is a risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes.”

Unfortunately, sleep problems are common in people with type 2 diabetes — about half suffer from a condition called sleep apnea, where you stop breathing for short episodes during sleep, and feel excessively tired during the day.  Research has linked sleep apnea to insulin resistance and increased appetite.

How do you know if you have this disorder? Some of the signs that suggest that you might have sleep apnea include these: your partner has noticed pauses in your breathing at night; you snore loudly; and you consistently feel tired or drained of energy during the day.

The treatment for sleep apnea, wearing a pressurized oxygen mask, can help decrease insulin resistance and improve blood sugar levels, says Dr. Gabbay. And many people who are treated feel like they’ve got their energy back again.

In general, experts agree that plenty of sleep leads to better control of blood sugar levels, which can help ward off type 2 diabetes if you have pre-diabetes. How can you get to the bottom of what’s keeping you up at night? For starters, here are some common sleep wreckers:

Engaging in anxiety-provoking activities. “Avoid watching television, checking work-related email or reading stimulating books and articles just before bedtime, all of which can make it difficult to fall asleep,” says Dr. Gabbay. Make your last hour before bedtime serene.

Using digital devices right before you go to sleep. A National Sleep Foundation poll examining how Americans live revealed that 95 percent of people use some type of computer, video game or cell phone within one hour before bed.  “At bedtime, you want your body to think it’s time to sleep, but exposure to light signals that emit from digital devices make your brain think it’s daytime, making it more difficult to fall asleep,” says Dr. Gabbay.

Inconsistent sleep schedule. To help condition your body to go into sleep mode, go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Establish a relaxation routine and stick to it.

Having a cocktail to unwind. Avoid drinking any alcohol late in the day. Alcohol is a depressant that suppresses rapid eye movement (REM), a phase of sleep during which you dream.

Too many distractions in the bedroom. Sleep in a dark room, keep your bedroom free of distracting light and noise, and invest in a comfortable mattress.

Exercising before bedtime.  For some people, evening exercise can have an arousing effect. Instead, exercise vigorously, but try getting it several hours before you turn in. This will make you tired and ready for bed.

If you aren’t getting a good night’s sleep, it’s time to do something about it. If you try these measures for a while and are still short on sleep, talk to your doctor. Problems with sleep can be caused by a wide range of things, for example, anxiety or depression, notorious sleep robbers.

For more information about diabetes or to answer any questions about diabetes management, contact our Certified Diabetes Educators at 617-309-2780 or make an appointment with our Adult Clinic at 617-309-2440. 

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