man at risk for diabetes wide awake in bed fighting insomnia

Millions don’t know they’re at risk for diabetes and their insomnia could be making things worse

By Jason Wooden, PhD | October 12, 2018

Millions are living with early stage diabetes and don’t know it.  A recent study of one million patients found that poor sleepers have a higher diabetes risk whether they were young or old.  Good news – there’s a lot you can do.

If you’re overweight or come from a family with a history of diabetes, it’s time to pay more attention to your sleep.

You’re probably aware by now that we are facing a huge public health crisis with diabetes, a disease in which the body is unable make or use insulin.

Insulin is the hormone that helps the body turn sugar into energy.

In diabetes, the blood sugar levels get too high which can wreak havoc on blood vessels, tissues, and organs throughout the body.   Some of the damage can start long before you have any symptoms.

The Many Health Effects of Diabetes

  • vision loss
  • nerve damage
  • kidney disease
  • increase risk for heart attacks
  • increase risk for strokes
  • higher risk of infection
  • foot problems
  • erectile dysfunction
  • gum disease
  • slow wound-healing

This is what diabetes can do to your body…

  • vision loss
  • nerve damage
  • kidney disease
  • increase risk for heart attacks
  • increase risk for strokes
  • higher risk of infection
  • foot problems
  • erectile dysfunction
  • gum disease
  • slow wound-healing

The Many Health Effects of Diabetes

  • vision loss
  • nerve damage
  • kidney disease
  • increase risk for heart attacks
  • increase risk for strokes
  • higher risk of infection
  • foot problems
  • erectile dysfunction
  • gum disease
  • slow wound-healing

Over time, diabetes can cause blindness, kidney failure, and lead to lower limb amputation:

  • As many as twenty percent of diabetics have vision issues
  • 1 out of 4 develop kidney disease making diabetes the leading cause of kidney failure
  • Globally, it’s estimated that every 30 seconds one leg is amputated due to diabetes

Diabetes can also cause other health problems and can put you at risk for a heart attack or stroke.  If left untreated, it can cut years off your life.

Millions of people are living with early stage diabetes and don’t know it

Despite the seriousness of this disease, it remains a public health crisis and is expected to get worse.

Currently, in the US, the CDC says that over 30 million Americans have diabetes.  Even more scary, a third of US adults have prediabetes and are mostly undiagnosed.

Think about it – over 80 million people walking around with early stage diabetes and most don’t know it.

Around the world, over 400 million people have diabetes and it’s now the leading cause of death.

Do You Have Any of These Diabetes Symptoms?

  • Frequent urination
  • Feeling very thirsty
  • Feeling very hungry even if you’re eating
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Blurry vision
  • Slow healing cuts or bruises
  • You lose weight even if you are eating more
  • Tingling, pain, or numbness in hands or feet

Source: American Diabetes Association

Do You Have Any of These Diabetes Symptoms?

  • Frequent urination
  • Feeling very thirsty
  • Feeling very hungry even if you’re eating
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Blurry vision
  • Slow healing cuts or bruises
  • You lose weight even if you are eating more
  • Tingling, pain, or numbness in hands or feet

Source: American Diabetes Association

Do You Have Any of These Diabetes Symptoms?

  • Frequent urination
  • Feeling very thirsty
  • Feeling very hungry even if you’re eating
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Blurry vision
  • Slow healing cuts or bruises
  • You lose weight even if you are eating more
  • Tingling, pain, or numbness in hands or feet

Source:  American Diabetes Association

Do You Have Any of These Diabetes Symptoms?

  • Frequent urination
  • Feeling very thirsty
  • Feeling very hungry even if you’re eating
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Blurry vision
  • Slow healing cuts or bruises
  • You lose weight even if you are eating more
  • Tingling, pain, or numbness in hands or feet

Source:  American Diabetes Association

If you’re wondering why there are so many people with diabetes, you can look at genetics, obesity, and lifestyle.

Some people have genes that might trigger the disease.

However, most people develop diabetes due to lifestyle – you’re more likely to get it if you are overweight and physically inactive.  (In the US alone, 40 percent of adults are overweight!)

Other risk factors for diabetes include age, high blood pressure, depression, and cardiovascular disease.

Why don’t people take diabetes more seriously?

Despite the high prevalence of diabetes, too many people don’t take it seriously for a variety of reasons.  Part of the problem is that the progression is slow and the health effects are not immediately obvious.

Let’s take a look at some of the myths about diabetes:

I don’t have to worry if no one in my family has diabetes – yes, it does run in families, but many people get it due to lifestyle

I’ll know that I have diabetes If I get symptoms – as mentioned earlier, symptoms may be gradual and mild

My doctor says I have borderline diabetes, so I don’t have to worry – it should be taken seriously, even if in the early stages

I can drink water and wash away the extra sugar in my blood – you prevent and manage diabetes by eating healthy, physical activity, and regular checkups with the doctor

Insulin is a cure – currently there’s no cure, insulin can be used help keep your blood sugar from rising

If you’re overweight, you’ll automatically get diabetes – while being obese is an important risk factor, other things such as family history and lifestyle can increase risk

Only overweight people get diabetes – body weight is just one risk factor, some healthy weight people can develop diabetes

I’ve seen its effect on family members, there’s nothing I can do about it – there are many things you can do to help prevent and control diabetes

Many at risk people may be in denial or think “it’s not a big deal, you just have to check your sugar.”  

Unless you’ve seen firsthand the toll diabetes takes on someone, it’s hard for most people to grasp how it can wreck your body.

researcher reviewing evidence for link between insomnia and diabetes

Major research study more evidence for link between insomnia and diabetes

Like diabetes, insomnia has become a global epidemic.  Every night millions of people struggle with sleep.

In the US alone, 1 in 3 people stumble out of bed sleep-deprived only to fight through a fog of fatigue during the day.

Poor sleep over the long-term can increase your risk for other health conditions such cardiovascular disease, obesity, depression, and dementia.

And now, with new research, we are learning more about the seriousness of the connection between poor sleep and diabetes.

Since the early 2000’s, researchers have suspected that insomnia could be a risk factor for diabetes.

More recently, Taiwanese researchers completed a huge population study where they analyzed the patient data of one million people.

They found that patients who slept more poorly did in fact have a significantly higher risk for the most common form of diabetes,  Type 2.

Their risk was at least 16% higher and could get even bigger if their insomnia lasted for more than 4 years.

A common misconception is that diabetes is something that only older people should worry about.  Surprisingly, the researchers found that the risk for diabetes was even greater for sleep-deprived patients younger than forty.

How insomnia affects your chances of getting diabetes is not completely understood, but researchers think poor sleep may affect the body’s ability to use blood sugar.  It can also increase your chances of obesity, a known risk factor for diabetes.

Regardless, with 1 in 3 adults in the US alone dealing with insomnia, that’s a whole lot of people who could be increasing their risk.  And if you’re also overweight, the cards may be even more stacked against avoiding diabetes.

Okay, so what can I do?

Whether you’re under or over 40 years old, the message is the same – make sure you’re getting quality sleep.

And let’s not forget the other health issues insomnia is linked to – hypertension, heart disease, dementia, and depression.

And that sleep is critical for cognitive function, coping, and quality of life.

The link with diabetes is just more motivation to take sleep more seriously.

The good news is that there are things you can do to improve your sleep and prevent diabetes.

Here’s what you can do to improve your sleep

For better sleep, you should practice good sleep hygiene.  It’s what you do during the day, in the evening, and at bed time that can set the stage for restful restorative sleep.

If you’re serious about sleep hygiene, you should:

Keep a steady sleep schedule – regular bedtimes and wake-up times will help keep your sleep clock on time

Exercise – physical activity has been shown to improve sleep

Avoid or limit naps – too long or too late can make it hard to fall asleep

Watch what you eat – avoid large meals, alcohol, or stimulants such as caffeine in the evening

Maintain a regular bedtime routine – relaxing activities such as light reading will help you “unwind” and prepare your body for sleep

Avoid night time use of electronicsbright light emitted by TVs, laptops, smart phones, and other devices interfere with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle and keep you from feeling sleepy

Improve your sleep environment – keep your bedroom dark, cool, quiet, and relaxing

You should also see a sleep specialist as there may be an underlying sleep disorder causing your problems.  (Would you believe that millions of people are living with undiagnosed sleep apnea?)

Another reason to get medical advice is that other health conditions can cause insomnia such as:

  • allergies
  • arthritis
  • asthma
  • chronic pain
  • gastrointestinal problems
  • heart disease

And would you believe, many of the prescriptions you take for them can also hurt your sleep?  Even medications for the common cold and allergies have been known to cause problems for sleep.

Besides sleeping better, what else can I do to prevent diabetes?

Okay, let’s talk about some things you can do (and should do) for diabetes prevention:

See a doctor – They can test your blood glucose levels, check for other warning signs, and give you suggestions.  If you suspect you have symptoms or risk factors for diabetes, you should definitely get tested.

Lose weight – Being overweight is a major risk factor for diabetes.

Become more active – Physical inactivity is also a risk factor for diabetes.  Exercise can help you lose weight and keep your blood sugar levels healthy.  You can start out with brisk walking.

Change your diet – You should eat plenty of fiber-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, and nuts.  They’ve been shown to help improve blood sugar control.  Be sure to also reduce your intake of refined sugar.

“Start where you are.  Use what you have.  Do what you can.”

– Arthur Ashe

“Start where you are.  Use what you have. Do what you can.”

– Arthur Ashe

“Start where you are.  Use what you have.  Do what you can.”

– Arthur Ashe

Today, we know so much more about sleep and diabetes prevention than your grandparents did thirty years ago.  There’s a lot you can do for both which makes it a shame how many people suffer from diabetes.

And it doesn’t matter how young or old you are…

So, start taking your sleep and health more seriously – do something today even if it’s only to make some changes to your bedroom and set up some doctor appointments.

You can build from there.

Want to keep your heart healthy, avoid depression, and stay mentally sharp as you get older?  Many of the life style and diet changes we talked about for sleep will be good for these things too.

Lastly, if you have a friend or relative who may be at risk, be sure to get the word out to them.

With so many sleep-deprived and overweight people, someone you know is likely on the way to full blown diabetes, even if they’re under forty.

Summary: 4 Things to do today to prevent diabetes

1) Start practicing good sleep hygiene

2) Make appointments with your doctor to talk about your sleep and diabetes risk

3) Get some physical activity

4) Eat more fiber-rich foods and less refined sugar

Some useful diabetes resources:

Sources:

1. “Percentage of Adults Aged 18 Years or Older with Diagnosed Diabetes Reporting Visual Impairment by Age, United States, 1997–2011”, CDC website.

2. Clinical Manifestations of Kidney Disease Among US Adults With Diabetes, 1988-2014. Journal of the American Medical Association, 2016, volume 316, issue 6, pages 602–610.

3. Literature review on the management of diabetic foot ulcer. World Journal of Diabetes, 2015, volume 6, issue 1, pages 37–53.

4. “New CDC report: More than 100 million Americans have diabetes or prediabetes”, 2017, CDC website.

5. Diabetes 2030: Insights from Yesterday, Today, and Future Trends. Population Health Management, 2017, volume 20, issue 1, pages 6–12.

6. A Prospective Study of Self-Reported Sleep Duration and Incident Diabetes in Women. Diabetes Care, 2003, volume 26, issue 2, pages 380-384.

7. Risk of type 2 diabetes in patients with insomnia: A population-based historical cohort study. Diabetes Metabolism Research and Reviews, 2018, volume 34, issue 1, e2930.

 

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