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The Link Between Snoring and Diabetes

Snoring and diabetes may or may not be linked. There is a good deal of current medical research exploring the connection between good sleep and health, and between poor sleep and a host of medical conditions. Good sleep habits that are consistent are essential for good health. Lack of sleep not only causes poor mental function and lack of concentration, but can also cause high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and metabolic dysfunction that can cause insulin resistance and weight gain. Insulin resistance and weight gain are both factors that can lead to diabetes.

Snoring and diabetes

If you are diabetic and you snore, this may not be a coincidence. Many people who snore suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA. The overwhelming majority of OSA sufferers have no idea they have it. Patients who suffer from OSA are nine times more likely to be diabetic than those who don’t.

Compounding the problem of OSA, our kidneys are key to regulating our blood sugar. When our blood sugar is high, our kidneys reduce our blood sugar, and we rid ourselves of it by urinating. If a diabetic has high blood sugar at night, the chances are they get up frequently to urinate. This can also contribute to a poor night’s sleep. As well, frequent urination is often a symptom of undiagnosed diabetes.

In 2014, a University of Toronto study found that “prolonged oxygen desaturation, shorter sleep time and higher heart rate were associated with diabetes [and] are consistent with the pathophysiological mechanisms thought to underlie the relationship between OSA and diabetes.”

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)

lung diagram

OSA (which is often the root cause of snoring) is a sleep disorder where the patient stops breathing for a few seconds to a minute, due to a temporary collapse of the airway. Blood oxygen levels plummet, and the patient wakes up abruptly, often with a loud snore. This pattern can repeat itself every few minutes all night long. Up to 90% of OSA sufferers have no idea that their sleep is so badly compromised.

When experiencing OSA, blood oxygen levels decrease which causes stress on the body. As a response to this stress, the body releases a stress hormone, cortisol, which increases insulin resistance (and can also result in weight gain).

The “dawn phenomenon.”

While snoring can do wonders for your relationship with your sleep partner, its implications can be far more serious and far-reaching. Snoring is often an indication of poor sleep which can lead to inflammation, heart disease, obesity, and poor concentration which can be deadly when operating heavy machinery or a motor vehicle. Not only may the OSA sufferer have difficulty concentrating and low energy levels, but there may also be an accompanying rise in hormone and glucose levels. This is known as the “dawn phenomenon” where blood sugar levels rise while energy levels drop.

Insulin resistance is a precursor to diabetes. Insulin’s function is to help our bodies convert glucose into energy. With insulin resistance, our cells do not use the hormone effectively resulting in high blood sugar. Diabetes is a condition where the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells do not use the insulin properly. This causes high blood sugar levels which can result in damage to the eyes, kidneys, nerves, and heart.

Catch 22

Medical research has linked poor sleep to weight gain and obesity. Not only does poor sleep affect our hormone levels (including those that control appetite), but tired people often eat more "empty calories", looking for the energy they have been deprived of due to poor sleep. OSA has been shown to cause weight gain, and weight gain has not only been demonstrated to increase the risk of diabetes, but it may also contribute to OSA. Weight gain may contribute to fatty deposits forming near the upper airways and causing them to collapse during sleep.

What you can do about it

If you suspect you may suffer from diabetes or OSA, see your doctor immediately. Gaining control of your OSA can help prevent diabetes or manage it. The most common treatment for OSA is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. The user wears a mask that prevents the airway from collapsing and ensures steady breathing all night long. Snoring and gasping for air usually stops. This promotes good sleep, and a good night’s sleep reduces blood glucose levels. A weight loss program may also be prescribed.

For diabetics, sleep can be as important as diet in controlling blood sugar. Poor sleep leads to feeling fatigued, which can lead to higher blood sugar levels, which leads to insulin resistance, and so on.

Most of us need seven to eight hours of sleep every night. The chances are if you wake up before your alarm clock goes off, you are getting enough sleep.

Mark Walton
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