Sleep plays a critical part in the body’s overall condition. Sleep deprivation (not getting enough sleep) can lead to serious medical problems including:
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Cardiovascular disease
- Irregular heartbeat
- High blood pressure
Some studies have estimated that up to 90 percent of people suffering from insomnia (a sleep disorder in which individuals experience trouble falling and staying asleep) also have at least one other health condition.
Sleep plays a vital role in thinking, learning, and other cognitive processes. Lack of sleep impairs attention, concentration, and problem solving. Not getting enough sleep can also affect your ability to remember what you learned and experienced throughout the day.
Over time, sleep disorders and sleep deprivation can contribute to the symptoms of depression. Insomnia, the most common sleep disorder, has the strongest link to depression. In fact, insomnia is often one of the first symptoms of depression.
According to researchers, lack of sleep can affect the brain’s ability to appropriately interpret and react to events. This negatively affects our ability to make sound judgments. This includes the judgment that we are “doing just fine” with less sleep.
Studies have shown that people who are getting approximately six hours of sleep, as opposed to the recommended seven to nine hours, begin to feel that they have successfully adapted to sleep deprivation. However, on testing for mental performance and alertness, their score continued to trend downward. Therefore, we may think we are getting enough sleep, but since lack of sleep affects our thinking, we’re probably incorrect!
Not getting enough sleep may have a negative effect on your love life. Several studies have shown that decreased sleep is related to decreased sex drive and decreased sexual satisfaction in relationships. It makes sense that if you are tired all the time, the only thing you want to do in bed at night is try to sleep. Since lack of sleep affects the hormonal balance of the body, fertility can also be negatively affected by sleeplessness.
If you are not sleeping well, you may find yourself not only feeling tired, but feeling sick as well. Studies show that your immune system suffers greatly due to lack of sleep. People are more likely to catch the common cold when they are behind on their rest. Not only is being sick an inconvenience, but as the body becomes susceptible to things like the common cold, there also comes an increased vulnerability to more severe infections, diseases, etc.
Losing sleep can affect your weight. Lack of sleep may be related to increased hunger, appetite, and possibly even obesity. According to a study in 2004, people who got less than six hours of sleep per day were nearly 30 percent more likely to become obese than people who slept seven to nine hours per day. Also, people who experience difficulty sleeping may be less likely to exercise and engage in physical activity, and therefore may have more difficulty maintaining a healthy weight.
Lack of sleep appears to not only stimulate appetite in general, it also stimulates cravings for high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods. For diabetics, an increase in appetite, especially for high-carbohydrate foods could make healthy eating even more challenging!
According to the medical community, there are specific concerns regarding sleeplessness and diabetes. Along with the above-mentioned effects on weight and appetite, sleeplessness can also directly and indirectly affect blood sugar.
Registered Dietician Lynn Maarouf has witnessed sleeplessness and diabetes go hand in hand. “People who are tired will eat more because their bodies want to get that missing energy from somewhere. That can mean consuming sugar or other foods that can spike blood sugar.” According to Maarouf, if you eat properly throughout the day and keep blood sugar levels under control, you can expect a good night’s sleep and high energy.
For Dr. Mark Mahowald, the effects of sleep loss also have a devastating effect on diabetics. The body’s reaction to lack of sleep can mimic insulin resistance. Insulin resistance occurs due to the cell’s inability to utilize insulin. This results in high blood sugar. Imagine if your blood sugar was spiking every single night simply because you were having trouble sleeping… yikes!
So what can we do to help feel more rested? The Mayo Clinic offers these tips on their website for sleeping better:
- Develop a sleep schedule and stick to it
- Pay attention to what you eat and drink (caffeine, alcohol, etc.)
- Create a soothing bedtime ritual in order to relax
- Get comfortable (cool, dark room and comfortable mattress and pillow)
- Limit napping during the day (10-30 minutes in the afternoon at most)
- Include exercise in your daily routine
- Effectively manage stress
- Know when to contact your doctor about your sleeplessness
These tips are general guidelines, and you will need to adapt any of the tips you wish to try to fit into your lifestyle. For example, your soothing bedtime ritual may be to turn off the TV, take a warm bath, and drink a cup of decaffeinated tea before bed. You may prefer to sleep with a fan in your room for noise and air circulation. Your daily exercise may be a walk with your spouse every evening before dinner. Your stress reliever may be yoga, swimming, reading, or listening to music.
If you are having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep on a regular basis, you need to speak with your doctor. Your physician may recommend that a sleep study be performed. This study will give a detailed view of your sleep patterns and assist your doctor in determining your plan of care.
Quality sleep is essential to a happy and healthy life for everyone, and especially for diabetics. So take charge of your sleep, and enjoy the many benefits a good night’s rest will bring you!
Mann, D. 2014. Coping with excessive sleeplessness: the sleep-diabetes connection. Retrieved from www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/excessive-sleepiness-10/diabetes-lack-of-sleep
Mayo Clinic Staff. 2014. Sleep tips: 7 steps to better sleep. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/adult-health/in-depth/sleep/art-20048379?pg=1
Peri, C. 2014. 10 surprising effects of lack of sleep. Retrieved from www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/excessive-sleepiness-10/10-results-sleep-loss