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Trouble Sleeping and Diabetes: 6 Tips for Better Rest

Medically reviewed by Robert Hurd, M.D.
Written by Kacie Riggs
Updated on September 7, 2022

If you have type 2 diabetes and have difficulty sleeping, you’re not alone. One DiabetesTeam member wrote, “It’s like clockwork. I keep waking up at 3 a.m. every night and usually fall back asleep after much tossing and turning. I’m so desperate to get a full night’s sleep.”

Another member added, “I have type 2 and have this problem at night. I wake up at around 2:30 every night. My hands and feet are tingling, my ears are ringing, and I have a headache. It feels like my breathing has gone very very slow.”

Roughly half of all people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes struggle with getting the seven hours of sleep per night as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These sleep problems may be caused by underlying sleep disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnea, or restless leg syndrome, which are common in people with diabetes. Additionally, other common diabetes symptoms, such as extreme hunger and thirst or frequent urination, can make sleep disturbances worse or more frequent.

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when an individual unknowingly stops breathing for short periods of time throughout the night. This condition can decrease sleep quality and disrupt the progression of sleep. People with restless legs syndrome may experience tingling sensations in their legs that prevent them from falling asleep. This issue can also put individuals at a higher risk for damage to the nerves in the peripheral nerves of the brain and spinal cord (peripheral neuropathy), which causes pain typically in the feet and hands.

How Does Trouble Sleeping Affect Diabetes Control?

Inadequate sleep can make it difficult for people with diabetes to maintain their treatment plans. Without enough sleep, individuals may find it difficult to control what they eat, causing them to eat unhealthy foods with high amounts of sugar or carbohydrates. Additionally, they may have an increased appetite and eat more food than normal because they do not feel satisfied or full after meals. In turn, this can make it more difficult for those with diabetes to lose weight.

People may also notice higher blood sugar levels due to insulin resistance and the buildup of glucose (sugar) in the body. These high blood sugar levels can cause hypertension (high blood pressure), putting individuals at an increased risk for heart attacks or heart disease.

Poor sleep patterns can reduce the body’s ability to fight off infections and illness, as well as put individuals at a higher risk for anxiety or depression.

Common Sleep Disturbances

The buildup of glucose and hyperglycemia (high blood sugar levels) that accompany diabetes can cause the kidneys to go into overdrive and create the need to urinate more often than usual. This feeling can carry on into the night, keeping individuals awake and forcing them out of bed to go to the bathroom. High blood sugar levels can also produce headaches or dehydration and extreme thirst that makes it harder to fall or stay asleep.

On the other hand, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels) can also harm your sleep quality. A mixture of medications or dietary habits can drop an individual’s blood sugar, promoting nightmares or night sweats that can also cause sleep disturbances. Continuous glucose monitoring systems help detect these periods of low blood sugar during sleep.

Pain can also be a contributing factor to problems with sleeping. High blood sugar can lead to nerve damage across the body that can result in numbness or pain that makes it hard to complete activities or sleep soundly. Nerve damage affects more than half of those with diabetes, and keeping blood sugar levels near your target level can reduce the likelihood of developing it or delay onset.

Sleep disorders may require an additional diagnosis and treatment plan. If you have obstructive sleep apnea, your doctor may recommend a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to help your body constantly breathe throughout the night. Restless legs syndrome may be treated with additional medications or muscle relaxants.

6 Tips for Getting Better Sleep With Diabetes

Health experts recommend several strategies for improving sleep quality. They require some lifestyle adjustments but can yield significant benefits.

1. Stick to a Consistent Sleep Schedule

One of the most effective ways to get better sleep and improve wellness is to establish strong sleeping habits. Sticking to a sleep schedule that has similar bed and wake times each day, even on weekends, may help increase your amount and quality of sleep.

2. Create a Soothing Environment

Creating a soothing environment can help improve your sleep. It is recommended to sleep in a quiet, dark, and cool room to limit exposure to light that may keep you up. Try to avoid doing work or activities other than sleeping and being intimate in your bed.

Reducing screen time before bed — avoiding devices such as smartphones or tablets — may help you fall asleep faster. It may also be beneficial to form a routine before bedtime that helps you physically and mentally unwind and relax. This routine could include showering, bathing, reading a book, journaling, or meditating.

3. Limit Napping

Another suggestion to get better sleep at night is to minimize daytime naps. Sleeping for long periods during the day can disrupt your natural sleep cycle at night. If a nap is necessary, steer clear of napping later on in the day or for more than an hour. One DiabetesTeam member wrote, “I listen to my body and rest when I need to. Sometimes, a 20-minute nap is all I need.”

4. Watch When You Eat

Your diet can also play an essential role in your sleep patterns. Eating large meals close to bedtime may keep you up with feelings of fullness or discomfort. If you find that you are hungry at night and it keeps you awake, one member suggested, “Eat something that won’t jack up your blood sugar levels. Leftover meat, cheese, or nuts are good sources of protein with minimal carbs.”

5. Avoid Alcohol and Caffeine Before Bed

Alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine can prevent you from falling or staying asleep throughout the entire night. Avoid caffeine in the afternoon or early evening because it can continue to affect your body almost 8 hours after you consume it.

6. Get Active

Incorporating physical activity into your daily schedule can also improve your sleep quality. Exercising regularly may reduce stress and anxiety that could potentially be keeping you up at night. Exercise also tires you out and promotes a higher sleep drive. Short walks are an easy way to move your body and still reap the sleeping benefits.

Talk to Your Doctor

Everyone’s condition is different, so certain tips may work for some individuals but not for others.

Contact your health care provider if you still find it difficult to have a restful night of sleep. Be sure to mention any changes in your symptoms or treatment plans so that your doctors can monitor your blood sugar levels, determine if you have other underlying causes, and provide you with the best possible outcome.

Find Your Team

DiabetesTeam is the online social network for people with diabetes and their loved ones. More than 123,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with diabetes.

Do you have type 2 diabetes and struggle with sleeping throughout the night? Share your tips and experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Updated on September 7, 2022
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Robert Hurd, M.D. is a professor of endocrinology and health care ethics at Xavier University. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Kacie Riggs is a content intern at MyHealthTeam. Learn more about her here.

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