Sleep and diabetes

Cartoon man with parachute hits targetCartoony sleeping man flippedWell, you would sleep on it, if you could sleep. But you’ve either tossed and turned and taken ages to drop off, or you’ve awoken in the wee hours to stare unproductively at the ceiling. It happens to all of us at some time or another, but recurring sleeplessness can be a real bind.

We’re meant to get around 8 hours a night, but few of us do. Our needs change over time, needing more sleep when we’re younger.

Insufficient and or poor quality sleep also has an adverse effect on our performance. Sleeping 4 to 5 hours a night can impair performance to the same extent as being legally drunk (according to Professor Charles Czeisler in an article for Harvard Business Review).

There are a host of ideal circumstances to help you sleep, a form of sleep ‘hygiene’, then there are the diabetes specific issues that are part of the load than any diabetic bears – worries about your health, your control, your supplies, your next appointment with the doctor.

Here we take a look at both the general and the specific and hope to give anyone living with patchy sleep some hints and tips on improving their chances of some decent shut-eye.

Environmental factors

You should create a healthy sleeping environment. You’ll need a suitably comfy bed and the mattress should not be too soft. Your room should be at the correct temperature, which mainly means not too hot. If you get cold, put on a pair of socks or another layer. You should try to eradicate noise (including snoring – see sidebar) so keep some earplugs handy if night-time noises in your neighbourhood collude to keep you awake (or wake you up). Some people can sleep in almost any circumstances, others are like the princess and the pea – little things can impede sleep, such as birdsong at dawn along with the light from daybreak. If you’ve ever picked up the eye mask given away on airplanes on a long flight, now’s the time to employ it in domestic circumstances.

Decisions and dilemmas

The clear winner in terms of causing a loss of sleep is old-fashioned stress. Money worries, feuds with our families or a bad run-in with your boss can tip us over the edge in terms of getting any sleep. Our minds are full of anxiety, worry or even anger and it keeps us awake. We all have to find our own ways to navigate those nights – it’s whatever works for you. Some people get up and walk around, others read. What you should not do is lie in bed watching the minutes tick by. Hide bedside clocks and radio alarms (especially those with bright digital displays) under something. Try not to count the hours until you have to get up either. Counting sheep is not as daft as it sounds – by focussing on a simple task you can try to divert you mind from mulling things over and keeping you awake.

Food and drink

Eating late (close to your bedtime) is said to delay the onset of sleep as the body is busy digesting your dinner. But the common consensus at the moment is that eating carbs such as pasta in the evening can release serotonin, which helps ease you into sleep. Ideally, avoid caffeine later in the day (some say after noon), which includes checking for caffeine in your tea or hot chocolate.

Bad behaviours

A heap of things can contribute to poor sleep patterns. Burning the candle at both ends is one way of putting it – taking too much on, staying up to late on a whim. Exercise at any point in the day will help to leave the body feeling usefully tired, while booze and drugs (including nicotine from smoking) are stimulants that could keep you awake (or wake you in the night).

Gizmos and gadgets

Despite the rise and rise of sales of smart phones, tablets and ebook readers, there’s evidence building that the light given off by these devices acts as a stimulant, which is not what you want before you try to go to sleep, and TVs in bedrooms tend to have the same effect if you’re watching shows into the night.

Diabetic difficulties

Good diabetes control can still include the occasional hypo, and these can be at night. You’re not awake to start feeling the onset of symptoms, so if you do wake with a hypo then you’re likely to be quite far gone and in a state of confusion due to waking up and having the hypo. Keeping a blood test meter nearby can be helpful in case you need proof you’re having a hypo (it’s certainly good to record them in case you can build up a pattern that will help you adjust your medication to avoid recurrences. You should also keep a sugar supply in a bedside drawer or similar so you don’t have to fumble around to treat it.

It’s always about keeping the balance, as the flip side to avoiding night-time hypos may lead you to have blood sugars running so high that you’re up in the night needing a drink or a trip to the toilet, which is not much better.

Please see the sidebar on devices that can help if you have serious issues with night-time hypos.


Stop snoring!

There are sensible approaches to successfully treating this famously distracting sound. If it’s your partner who’s the problem, that’s one thing, but what if it’s you? Bad bouts of snoring could even wake you up. This can become a medical issue if it persists, termed sleep apnea, which involves the inability to breathe properly, in some case leading to a lack of oxygen to the brain (see separate sidebar). Other medical reasons may be causing snoring,

Finding the cause of the snoring is key to trying to treat it. That way you can avoid buying products that have no benefit. Snoring is an individual problem and different treatments suit different types of snoring with some current recommended clinically proven treatments.

We are also launching a novel treatment that is aimed at individuals whose snoring is caused by ‘mouth breathing’.

The British Snoring & Sleep Apnoea Association is a not-for-profit charitable organisation helping people to get a good night’s sleep.

This feature first appeared in our free-to-receive online magazine. Go to the top of this page to sign up – we just need your email address.

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