Is Diabetes Disrupting Your Sweet Dreams?

is diabetes disrupting your sweet dreams
  • Diabetes currently affects 700 million people worldwide and with 50% of cases still undiagnosed, it’s important you know the signs and symptoms of this crippling disease.
  • Waking through the night is only one of several key symptoms of Diabetes with 50% of Type 2 Diabetics suffering poor sleep.
  • Our blog will show you can reduce your risk of Diabetes and If you are a diabetic, we offer tips on how you can reduce your symptoms to support your treatment plan.

Have you ever woken in the middle of the night ravenous and had to curb your hunger with a midnight snack? Or perhaps you have dragged yourself out of bed earlier than normal starving for breakfast? For half of the 700 million diabetics  across the world, this is a common occurrence with low blood sugar levels, sweating or anxiety disrupting their sleep and contributing to sleep disorders like insomnia.

It’s Diabetes Awareness month and with 50% of cases estimated to be undiagnosed and rates rising globally, we couldn’t miss an opportunity to share the research demonstrating how healthy sleep can help you maintain stable blood sugar levels and reduce your risk of this crippling disease. We also offer tips to support the symptoms and treatment plan of Diabetics already diagnosed.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic (long-lasting) health condition that affects how your body turns food into energy. Most of the food you eat is broken down into sugar (glucose) and released into your bloodstream. When your blood sugar goes up, it signals your pancreas to release insulin. Insulin acts like a key to let the blood sugar into your body’s cells for use as energy.

However, people with type 1 Diabetes are born without the ability to produce enough of the hormone insulin (type 1) to control their blood sugar. Some people also develop Type 1 Diabetes following viral infection such as chicken pox or childhood vaccinations.

Type 2 Diabetes often develops as we age as our body’s pancreas gets worn out from poor diet and lifestyle choices and it doesn’t recognise insulin in the body (known as insulin insensitivity). When there isn’t enough insulin or cells stop responding to glucose too much blood sugar stays in your bloodstream. Over time, that can cause serious health problems, such as heart disease, vision loss and kidney disease.

There is also now a type 3 diabetes which negatively affects glucose supplied to the brain and contributes to the development of cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Dementia.  Diabetes can also develop during pregnancy, known as Gestational Diabetes. High blood sugar develops through pregnancy because many mothers can’t produce enough insulin to meet their baby’s growth requirements. Unlike type 1 and type 2 diabetes gestational diabetes usually disappears after pregnancy but it does increase a mother’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 50% – 60%.

Pre-diabetes describes a condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal, although not high enough to see some of the signs or symptoms of type 2 diabetes needed for diagnosis. If left untreated, one in three people will go on to develop type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular (heart and circulation) disease.

Common Symptoms of Diabetes

In type 1 diabetes the symptoms often develop suddenly, and it can be life threatening. Luckily because the symptoms are so severe it is often diagnosed quickly.  However, in type 2 diabetes, many people have no symptoms at all, while other signs can be mistaken for a natural part of aging and a diabetes diagnosis is missed.  By the time symptoms are addressed, complications of diabetes may already be present such as damage to the eyes, skin, hearing, sight, heart and nerves which if left undiagnosed can lead to blindness or amputation of feet or legs.

Common Symptoms of Diabetes can Include:

  • Being more thirsty than usual
    • Passing more urine
    • Feeling tired and lethargic
    • Struggling to get to sleep
    • Waking through the night
    • Always feeling hungry
    • Having cuts that heal slowly
    • Itching, skin infections
    • Blurred vision
    • Unexplained weight loss (type 1)
    • Gradually putting on weight (type 2)
    • Mood swings
    • Headaches
    • Feeling dizzy
    • Leg cramps

The Rise in Diabetes

Diabetes has become the fastest growing chronic condition in the world. The increasing rates of type 2 diabetes is a consequence of two other epidemics, obesity and sleep deprivation that the world is experiencing. These epidemics driven by a combination of massive changes to our diet and food supply, more sedentary behaviour and poor sleep , mean many of us are at risk of Type 2 Diabetes.

How Does Diabetes Affect Sleep?

Diabetes and sleep are intricately connected with 50% of people with type 2 diabetes experiencing poor sleep quality or insomnia.1 This is largely due to unstable blood sugar levels or other symptoms such as sweating, headaches or frequent urination making it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night.

When blood sugar levels are high2 the kidneys overcompensate by causing frequent trips to the bathroom during the night and disrupting sleep. High blood sugar may also cause headaches, increased thirst, and tiredness that can interfere with falling asleep.

In contrast, diabetics with low blood sugar levels can also wake during the night sweating1 or suffering from nightmares or wake in the morning irritated or confused.

How Does Poor Sleep Affect Diabetes?

Sleep deprivation (regularly sleeping less than 6 hours) has been shown to increase your risk of developing insulin resistance and diabetes and this can start as early as childhood.3 Studies have also found that sleeping in4  or irregular sleeping schedules5 are associated with higher blood sugar in both diabetics  and non diabetics.6

Sleep deprivation raises our hunger hormone ghrelin, making us literally crave high calorie processed foods. At the same time our hormone that helps us recognise when we are full decreases. This double whammy has shown people can eat 300% of what they would normally on a day that follows a bad night’s sleep. If sleep deprivation continues, research has shown participants can gain as much as 5kg in one year. This is not only bad news for our waistlines, but research has shown each kg of weight gained annually over 10 years is associated with a 49% increase in risk of developing diabetes.7

How Can Sleep Help Prevent & Manage Diabetes

Many cases of Type 2 diabetes can be prevented and even reversed through positive lifestyle changes. It is estimated that the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes can be reduced by up to 58% by maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active, following a healthy eating plan and sleeping for eight hours of deep sleep each night. These positive lifestyle changes are also recommended to people already diagnosed with Diabetes to help manage their blood sugar and symptoms.

Specifically, deep restorative sleep helps us produce and regulate our hormones including insulin and cortisol that have key roles in controlling our blood sugar and metabolism.8 Deep sleep also helps us reduce inflammation and any oxidative stress in the body which can elevate cortisol and insulin, further interfering  with our blood sugar levels.9

Sleep Tips to Control Your Blood Sugar

To improve your sleep quality, support healthy blood sugar levels and reduce your risk of diabetes, read our resource, 23 Sleep Hygiene Tips or purchase our 1 week to a more restful sleep programme. This resource outlines our evidenced-based tips to implement changes to your environment and daily routines to set yourself up for the best night’s sleep possible.

If you are a diabetic with sleeping problems then it’s important you do all you can to prioritise sleep and improve the quality of the sleep you are getting. Aim to get into bed at 9.30pm and be asleep before 10pm as it is easier to reach the deep, restorative stages of sleep in the earlier parts of the evening needed to ensure healthy blood sugar metabolism.

Nutrition Tips for Stable Blood Sugar

It’s also important to support great sleep and stable, healthy blood sugar levels with a consistent whole food diet.

Healthy Sources of Carbohydrate

Tips: Swap processed and refined carbohydrates like bread, cereals, for whole food sources and whole grains packed with nutrients and fibre. E.g. Swap your intake of bread, breakfast cereals, noodles, white rice for kumara, taro, corn, eggplant, banana, potato, oats, brown rice, quinoa, spelt, barley, faro or buckwheat.

Skip the sugary drinks including fizzy drinks, energy drinks, sweetened teas, coffees, juices, and artificially sweetened drinks as these send your blood sugar levels on a rollercoaster. Choose water, or herbal tea instead.

Healthy Sources of Protein and Fat

To help you feel more satiated and control your blood sugar and appetite choose healthier nutrient dense sources of protein to include in meals and snacks.  Reduce your intake of processed meats (bacon, deli meats) and swap for healthier protein sources, such as nuts, poultry, or fish.

A diet that includes healthy fats such as omega 3s will improve your insulin response and ability to utilise the sugar in your diet because these make up the lipid layer of the cell membrane where the insulin receptors are located.

Swap foods high in trans fats found in fried foods, baked goods, crackers, pastry, pies and margarine or any other food that includes ‘partially hydrogenated vegetable oil’ for healthy fats such as the polyunsaturated fats found in avocado, olive oil, nuts, and seeds.

As always, if you are concerned about your sleep or risk of diabetes, or you have diabetes and are seeking a more thorough sleep and wellbeing assessment, please contact our Naturopathic Doctor on 0800 345 999 or book online here for an initial consultation.

Source: The SleepDrops Research Team


  1. Luyster, F. S., & Dunbar-Jacob, J. (2011). Sleep quality and quality of life in adults with type 2 diabetes. The Diabetes educator, 37(3), 347–355.https://doi.org/10.1177/0145721711400663
  2. Know Your Blood Sugar Numbers: Use Them to Manage Your Diabetes. 2016, March. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Accessed on November 19, 2020, fromhttps://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/managing-diabetes/know-blood-sugar-numbers
  3. Dutil, C., & Chaput, J. P. (2017). Inadequate sleep as a contributor to type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents. Nutrition & diabetes, 7(5), e266.https://doi.org/10.1038/nutd.2017.19
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  7. Resnick HE, Valsania P, Halter JB, Lin X. Relation of weight gain and weight loss on subsequent diabetes risk in overweight adults. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2000;54(8):596-602. doi:10.1136/jech.54.8.596
  8. Iyegha, I. D., Chieh, A. Y., Bryant, B. M., & Li, L. (2019). Associations between poor sleep and glucose intolerance in prediabetes. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 110, 104444.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2019.104444
  9. Rains, J. L., & Jain, S. K. (2011). Oxidative stress, insulin signalling, and diabetes. Free radical biology & medicine, 50(5), 567–575.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2010.12.00