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Diabetes and Sleep

David Spero

October 27, 2010

Studies show poor sleep worsens diabetes and may even help cause it. But what causes poor sleep, and how can we sleep better? Here are a bunch of tips and strategies from someone with a lifetime of sleep problems. Hopefully readers will add their own.

Diabetes itself can cause poor sleep in several ways. High blood glucose can wake you up to urinate, while low blood glucose can wake you with hunger. People with diabetes are more likely to have sleep apnea, which wakes you because you need air. So if you wake frequently in the night, controlling blood glucose and being checked and treated for sleep apnea are places to start.

Stress interferes with sleep, and it always has. All through history, night has been a dangerous time, and it wasn’t safe to sleep too soundly. Now, when we feel threatened by economic, social, or personal problems, our bodies react the same way they did to tigers prowling in the night — with wakefulness. So you may benefit from some help in dealing with stress, depression, and/or anxiety, all of which can cause insomnia.

Pain is another diabetes-related sleep-killer. If you have neuropathy, headache, or some other acute or chronic pain, you may need to control the pain to sleep well. See some pain-control tips here and here.

Make Your Room a Sleep Palace
You may need to make your bedroom more sleep-friendly. Ideally, everything about your bedroom should tell your body, “Sleep.”

First, you need a comfortable bed with a good mattress and pillows and a warm blanket. It’s worth spending some money on a comfortable mattress. Even the clothes you wear to sleep should be comfortable and soft.

The room should be dark. If light comes in through windows, can you pull some shades or drapes to darken things? If not, you might want to wear an eye mask to protect yourself from light.

You want a noise level in your room that is right for you. Certain sounds annoy some people, while others don’t like their bedroom too quiet. You can use “white noise,” a steady, low-level background sound to block distracting sounds. According to an article on Everyday Health, you can “try running a fan at night or playing a CD of soothing sounds, like rain or ocean waves — whatever relaxes you.”

The right temperature is also important. Like noise, the right temperature varies from person to person (which can make it hard if a couple sleeps together.) Find the temperature that is right for you, and at least adjust your clothing and covers to reach that temperature.

Discuss sleep with your partner. A human or animal bedmate can crowd you or disrupt you by tossing, turning, or snoring. Remember that sleep is vitally important to health, and stand up for your right to sleep!

Reserve your bed for sleep and sex. Don’t do things like study or work on your computer in bed. Save bed for the important stuff! Bodies need to be trained to associate the bedroom with sleep, not with mental stimulation.

Exercise, but not vigorously — at least not in the evening. It will wake you up. Gentle stretching can be good.

Avoid caffeine after dinner, or even earlier. That includes chocolate! (At least, it does for me.) Also avoid drinking large amounts of fluids in the evening; they will cause you to wake up in the night to urinate.

Get some sunshine during the day. Sunshine drives your body to produce melatonin, which is needed for sleep. You can also take melatonin supplements.

Take time to wind down — spend some time with the lights low, relaxing or meditating, petting your cat, or whatever quiets you before you go to bed. This is called a “bedtime ritual” and is highly effective for many people. One good ritual is to remember five things that happened today for which you are grateful.

Put the world on hold — Whatever your problems are, tell yourself, “I’ve done all I can for today. Whatever is left over can wait until tomorrow. Now it’s time to rest.”

See you in the morning.



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