Diabetes patients with out of control blood sugar levels will experience sleep disturbances at night most of the time. There are 225k people living in Ireland with Diabetes and 10-15% of those with Type 1 Diabetes.[i] It is estimated that a further 450k people in Ireland are pre-diabetic. This is an alarming number of people who are overweight or need to seriously reconsider changing their lifestyle.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes occurs when the body is not able to make insulin effectively (Type 1 diabetes) or when the cells in the body become insulin resistant, stopping glucose from entering into the cells (Type 2 diabetes). Normally the body makes insulin (in the pancreas) in response to raised glucose levels in the blood. Carbohydrate foods that contain glucose are starchy foods, sugary foods, fruit, milk and some dairy. Insulin, a hormone, enables our cells to take in the glucose where it is used for energy. If too much glucose is left in the blood stream it can cause all sorts of problems, making the blood ‘sticky’ and damaging the blood vessels and arteries. Eventually it can damage the eyes, kidneys, nerves and even the heart.

How do you get Diabetes?

We life a busy hectic life and we don’t know how to slow down. When we lack in sleep, we tend to eat more for more energy. Some studies show that people who get less sleep tend to be heavier than those who sleep well. The body needs more energy, if we haven’t restored our energy levels through sleep. The ghrelin hormone is activated which makes us feel hungry and eat more. Unfortunately, the body is looking for something quick to give us energy because we are tired. This is why we crave food, especially sugary foods which give us a quick blood sugar boost.

Type 1 diabetes accounts for 10% of all diabetes patients and is the most common type diagnosed in children. Type 2 Diabetes is mostly in the over 40’s and accounts for the majority of diabetes patients.

If you have regular food cravings as a result of tiredness, it can lead to weight gain. Fat deposits can accumulate around cells clogging them up and stopping glucose from getting in. Insulin levels rises in response to ongoing increasing levels of glucose in the blood. The pancreas eventually wears out with the ongoing extra demands for insulin. In the mean time, the cells need energy and they send signals to the liver to release some stored glucose. This further impedes the already problem of excess glucose in the bloodstream. This process can be ongoing for up to 10 years before you realise you have a serious health problem.

Proper sleep is just as important as eating properly for people with diabetes.

Why does Diabetes impact sleep?

When blood sugar levels are very high, the body causes increased urination as a way of getting rid of excess glucose in the blood. Excess water is taken into the urine in this process, which causes thirst and then leads to dehydration. Excess glucose in the urine can also cause bacteria infections and lead to thrush making it difficult to sleep comfortably. This amount of urination has a toll on the kidneys by making them work very hard. It also causes more bathroom trips during the night, breaking up sleep and losing that valuable good quality deep sleep.

When blood sugar levels dip too low when we sleep, cortisol is released in the blood to compensate. Cortisol is our wake up hormone and causes us to be aroused which wakes us up during the night. Together with bathroom trips, feeling thirsty and waking up during the night all have a accumulated effect on overall sleep quality and can increase the risk of food cravings during the day, leading to more weight problems.

What causes unstable blood sugar?

Sleep problems for people with diabetes can be a vicious circle. As a result of lack of sleep and tiredness, the body needs more energy. This is when you crave food. Not only do you crave food, but the body needs a quick fix and so it craves sugary foods or foods with a high GI like biscuits, sugary snacks and refined foods. These foods generally lack fibre or protein, which can slow down the digestion and absorption process, and managing appetite, which in turn keep blood sugar levels stable. The glucose from these high GI foods enters the blood stream very quickly causing sugar spikes which in turn lead to sugar drops and unstable blood sugar levels. The already existing problem of insulin resistance in diabetes patients, then further impedes this problem.

Stress can cause high levels of cortisol and adrenaline which can impede the production of insulin. Insulin is very tightly regulated in healthy people and responds effectively to food intake and also the body’s metabolic rate and needs.[ii]

How to lower blood sugar levels

As a general rule of thumb, most fruits and vegetables are low in calories and contain fibre. While fruit does contain natural sugar, it is recommended not to consume too much in one go. You can refer to Diabetes Ireland recommended portion sizes here. Tropical fruits, like pineapple, contain higher amounts of natural sugar so keep that in mind also. It is advised to have a diet combination of protein, fibre, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates and focusing on real whole foods. Eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise and getting good quality sleep helps to keep blood sugar levels stable.

When to get checked for Diabetes

Lack of sleep can be caused by diabetes and contrarily, diabetes can cause sleep deprivation. If you are continually experiencing sleeping difficulties and tiredness, see your doctor and get a screening.

Long term Diabetes can result in Heart Disease, Stroke, Kidney Damage, Eye Damage, Nerve Damage and Skin problems which in most cases is preventable starting with getting a good night's sleep every night.

Lidl Ireland together with Diabetes Ireland are coming together to help increase awareness of the growing numbers being diagnosed with Prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes. They are offering a free screening which involves a personal and family history questionnaire; a finger prick test, BMI measurements and waist circumference measurements. This free screening and risk assessment will help individuals focus on areas that might need attention in order to reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

When our body responds to losing sleep, it can resemble so many things because the body is not working optimally. Sleep is vital for our health and wellbeing and is often the start to healing symptoms and diseases in the body.


If you enjoyed this article and would like to know more, then please join me for my upcoming book launch 7th Sept, in the Maldron Hotel, Tallaght where I will be officially releasing my book entitled ‘How to get a good night’s sleep’.

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