When it comes to diabetes and sleep problems, it is difficult to tell which is the chicken, and which is the egg.  It is true that not everyone with diabetes also suffers from sleep disturbances, many of those with the disease struggle to get the sleep they need to support their health.  Meanwhile, study after study has shown that not getting enough sleep increases the risk of diabetes.  What we do know, thanks to all the recent research into the link between the two, is that your risk of developing diabetes increases when your sleep is compromised.

Here are 3 things you need to know about sleep and diabetes.

1.     There is a Link Between Sleep Apnea and Diabetes

Research presented at the 2012 American Thoracic Society International conference shows that moderate and severe cases of obstructive sleep apnea are effective predictors for the development of Type 2 diabetes.   The study, which included more than 7,800 participants, established a link between sleep apnea, the resulting low blood oxygen levels associated with the condition and glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c) levels, which are often elevated in those with diabetes.

In a report published by The International Diabetes Foundation, the variety of ways in which sleep apnea impacts different bodily functions relating to diabetes is mapped out.  This mapping shows how both the sleep fragmentation and hypoxia caused by sleep apnea relates to insulin resistance, glucose intolerance, and the development of diabetes.

A study conducted at Yale University found that people with sleep apnea have an increased risk of developing diabetes, more than twice that of those without the condition.

2.     Sleep Deprivation Causes Insulin Resistance

Researchers and sleep specialists agree that there is evidence that sleep deprivation can cause insulin resistance, even temporarily.  A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine indicates that sleep deprivation may impact our fat cells ability to respond to insulin, even in those who do not have diabetes.  Additionally, the study found that after only four nights of not getting adequate sleep, participants who were healthy and lean showed insulin response times and sensitivities that were similar to people who were obese or had diabetes.   While the size of this study was small, it established a direct link between sleep deprivation and insulin resistance in participants who did not have other risk factors for diabetes or insulin regulation problems.

3.     Low Melatonin Levels Increase Diabetes Risk

New research published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that people with lower than normal melatonin levels had a higher risk of developing diabetes.   The sleep hormone, melatonin, plays a part in regulating our sleep wake cycle and our circadian rhythm.  This study used participants from the Nurses’ Health Study to look at how melatonin levels related to the development of diabetes over time.  There were 740 subjects included half of whom developed diabetes during their participation in the other study and half of whom did not.  By comparing the night time melatonin secretion levels of all subjects, the research team was able to identify the link between low levels and increased risk.  The team did account for other factors like weight, family history, and lifestyle factors when analyzing the results.