It is an established fact that sleep plays a critical role in our physical health. The benefits of sleep include everything from improved brain functioning and better mood to enhanced athletic abilities and body-weight maintenance.
With that being said, it is not enough to simply lie down and close your eyes at night. It is actually the quality of sleep that is of utmost importance. In order to reap the best benefits of sleep, you should strive for undisturbed, restorative sleep. There is still much to discover regarding sleep quality; however, many factors have been found to be linked with it.
Sleep quality is commonly affected by external factors such as light, temperature and noise. Sleep can also be impacted by stress, physical pain, anxiety and even blood sugar levels. This piece will explore how blood glucose affects sleep.
Five ways blood glucose affects sleep
1.Poor glycemic control lowers the quality of sleep
Poor glycemic control (consistently elevated or low blood glucose levels) contributes to a slew of health problems, including sleep issues. According to this study, poor glycemic control led to a decrease in REM sleep in participants with type 2 diabetes. REM sleep is very important, as it is the final state of a full sleep cycle and is associated with stimulating zones of the brain associated with learning and memory and higher generation of proteins. It occurs 90 minutes after falling asleep. Disruption of the REM cycle can lead to disturbed, non-restorative sleep, which in turn, is a precursor to impaired cardiovascular health.
Another study found that people with pre-diabetes are likely to experience reduced quality of sleep. Moreover, just as blood glucose affects sleep, sleep can both lower and elevate glucose levels too.
2.High glucose levels decrease REM sleep
Hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, happens as a result of insulin resistance (when the body doesn’t produce insulin properly or the insulin produced doesn’t transfer glucose into the cells where it’s used as energy). (4) As we’ve already established, glycemic control is linked to sleep quality.
Sleep provides numerous benefits when it is of good quality. To achieve this high-quality sleep and reap the benefits, it is important to establish REM sleep in a full sleep cycle. In fact, when we do not get high-quality sleep, our risk of developing diabetes increases.
REM, or rapid eye movement, is the last of four stages of the sleep cycle. Typically, this stage is reached about 90 minutes after you fall asleep. This type of sleep is very important, as during this stage, many metabolic processes take place. Among these processes is glucose utilisation, which aids our ability to dream. This same process plays a role in developing our insulin sensitivity.
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Maintaining insulin sensitivity is key to preventing diabetes. A 2008 study measuring the impact of sleep loss on glucose metabolism concluded that lack of sleep correlates with impairment of glucose metabolism, ultimately increasing the risk of diabetes and obesity.
Just as not getting enough sleep is tied to higher glucose levels and increased risk of diabetes, having a high glucose level can increase the instance of sleep loss and disturbance.
There was a study conducted in 1988 where lab rats were given a high dose of glucose. The findings, which showed a significant decrease in REM sleep in the first three hours of an eight-hour night’s sleep, strongly suggest that hyperglycemia negatively affects the sleep cycle.
3.Low blood sugar can lead to Nocturnal Hypoglycemia
Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, plays a role in affecting sleep. Restorative sleep may help to lower unhealthy blood sugar levels, but when the blood sugar level plummets, sleep may be negatively affected.
Hypoglycemia can occur in people with or without diabetes. You can usually identify hypoglycemia through symptoms like lightheadedness, dizziness, nightmares, hunger pangs, anxiety and racing heart.
Hypoglycemia can occur due to long periods of fasting, especially when it’s in conjunction with intense exercise or alcohol consumption. It is also a symptom of many eating disorders and malnutrition in general.
When you experience hypoglycemia during the night, it is called nocturnal hypoglycemia, which often goes unnoticed. This poses a serious threat, as it can lead to health conditions like seizures, coma and cardiovascular issues.
Symptoms of Nocturnal Hypoglycemia
- Waking up with a racing heart,
- Prolonged periods of restless sleep,
- Nightmares causing one to wake suddenly,
- Hunger or nausea upon waking,
- Hot, clammy or sweaty skin,
- Trembling or shaking.
If you have ever experienced hypoglycemia, it is important to monitor blood sugar levels regularly, as you are likely to sleep through these episodes.
4.Late-night eating can cause sleep disturbance
The timing of your meals should be taken into consideration for optimal sleep patterns.
There is nothing like a nice meal to trigger feelings of tiredness. Eating activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Once your belly is full and digestion begins, it can feel really nice to lie down and relax. There is even a term for what we refer to as food coma—postprandial somnolence. (24) Of course, this relaxation can be greatly disrupted if you experience indigestion.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, commonly referred to as GERD, occurs when gastric contents, such as stomach acid, splash into your mouth (acid reflux). Other symptoms of GERD include heartburn, difficulty swallowing, dental erosions and chronic cough.
If you are unlucky enough to experience these symptoms, you might consider avoiding mealtimes that are too close to bedtime. Research suggests that lying down flat can exacerbate the symptoms of acid reflux. Therefore, it is a good idea to eat at least three hours before going to bed.
Late-night eating can also affect sleep if you consume items containing too much caffeine or sugar. A 2016 study linked a high-sugar diet to decreased quality of sleep. Eating food with high quantities of sugar causes your blood sugar levels to rise. This results in an increase of energy levels, which are needed to prepare for activity. Eating these foods too late at night is counter-productive to sleep preparation and could lead to a sleepless night.
5.High glucose levels increase nighttime urination
Losing sleep for any reason is cause for annoyance. However, when the reason requires you to get out of your cosy bed, that’s about as irksome as it gets. Though you might not think anything of it, nighttime urination could be a big red flag.
You might think that the biggest culprit for causing nighttime urination is drinking liquids too soon before going to sleep. Though that may be true, it is not the only explanation. Frequent nighttime urination is a common early sign of diabetes.
If you have diabetes, any time there is excess glucose in your blood, your kidneys kick into overdrive to get rid of it. As your kidneys are working hard, they are forced to produce more urine. With all of this urine production, of course, your body needs to get rid of it. This signals you to wake in the night, ultimately disrupting your sleep cycle.
Diabetic or not, if you have a high glucose level, you are more vulnerable to frequent urination. If you begin to experience frequent episodes of high blood sugar paired with frequent urination, it may be cause for concern. Research suggests that sleep deprivation (like that derived from nighttime urination) could lead to a pre-diabetic state.
To protect yourself from increased risk of diabetes, it is a good idea to carefully monitor and regulate your blood sugar levels and prioritise sleep.
You can do this by adhering to some healthy habits such as
- Following a diet plan that works for you and helps keep blood sugar controlled,
- Getting regular exercise,
- Keeping a regular sleep schedule,
- Avoiding stimulants such as caffeine or nicotine before bed,
- Keeping the bedroom cool, dark and quiet.
Sleep is a vital component of a healthy lifestyle. When optimised, sleep is restorative and healing to nearly every system of the body. However, establishing optimal sleep is a delicate balance; it can be disrupted by factors we might not even realise are connected to it.
Blood glucose level is a key player in sleep quality and can be a major cause of sleep disturbance or loss of sleep. If not managed properly, both hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia will affect sleep and can lead to an increased risk of more serious issues like diabetes and nocturnal hypoglycemia.
Though blood glucose levels affect sleep, not getting enough sleep also affects blood glucose levels. Restorative sleep is shown to help reduce unhealthy blood sugar levels. Research suggests that if you experience sleep deprivation even once, it increases your insulin resistance. (23) So, prioritising sleep can help decrease your risk of diabetes.
Optimal sleep is important. You need to manage your glucose levels, pay attention to the timing of your meals and know the signs that something more serious may be happening.
Disclaimer:The contents of this article are for general information and educational purposes only. It neither provides any medical advice nor intends to substitute professional medical opinion on the treatment, diagnosis, prevention or alleviation of any disease, disorder or disability. Always consult with your doctor or qualified healthcare professional about your health condition and/or concerns and before undertaking a new health care regimen including making any dietary or lifestyle changes.