Diabetes ForumGuest Blogger: Mark Benson

Diabetes Forum


Sleeping is one of the most important “activities” of the human body as it allows you to recharge your batteries, repair your body and can have a major impact upon mood swings and concentration levels. While many people around the world suffer various sleeping disorders there is one particular disorder which is becoming more of a problem for the diabetic community which is the dreaded hypo.


What is a hypo and how can it affect you?

Hypoglycemia, the correct term for a hypo, is a reaction which is triggered when blood sugar levels fall dangerously low, often perceived to be under 4 mmol/L. While a typical hypo can be fairly mild and something which the individual can treat themselves, they can also be very severe and in some extreme circumstances life-threatening. Therefore, it is no surprise to learn that many people are very concerned about suffering hypos in their sleep and looking for advice to avoid this particularly uncomfortable situation.

It is also worth noting that while the type of hypos can vary from mild to severe, ongoing frequent hypos can affect a number of elements of your everyday life. Frequent hypos can and do have a debilitating impact upon your health affecting brainpower, weight gain, cognitive decline and something more commonly known as “dead in bed syndrome.” Some of these effects can be life changing both for the individual as well as their immediate family and friends.


How do you know you are suffering from hypos in your sleep?

When diabetics are wide awake the likelihood is that many will be able to recognize the tell-tale signs of a forthcoming hypo and take action to avoid this. This is very different when you are sleeping because ultimately you are not able to consciously appreciate the signs which may be physical or mental.

At the www.diabetesforum.com a number of members have been reliving their own particular hypo nightmares with symptoms such as:

  • Aggression if woken
  • Memory loss
  • Sleep apnoea
  • Excessive sweating
  • Incredibly restless sleep
  • Trembling
  • Breathing difficulties

In reality there will be many diabetics around the world who experience relatively mild hypos in their sleep, often dismissing these as a “restless night” or in some situations not even remembering them. However, it is very often up to a partner or parent to draw the individual’s attention to their extreme sleeping patterns which can occur relatively frequently or randomly.


How to Avoid a Sleeping Hypo

The simple fact is that a diabetic hypo is relatively easy to avoid in theory although perhaps not as easy to avoid in practice. If you take a step back and look at the situation from a distance, it is basically directly linked and triggered by low blood glucose levels. This situation can be either a consequence of excessive insulin or lack of food, both of which have the same impact and can trigger the condition.

When considering the feedback and comments from an array of diabetics across the world a number of factors become clear. These include potentially excessive exercise before bedtime, a lack of food during the day or some kind of change in their regular diabetic regime which can have a great impact upon their blood glucose levels. A number of studies have also found that lack of sleep and sleep apnoea lead to greater insulin resistance from fat cells within the body which ultimately leads to lower blood glucose levels, fact.


Treating a Sleep Induced Diabetic Hypo

While it would be wrong to suggest that diabetic treatment is simply “black-and-white” the fact is that checking your blood glucose level before bedtime will give you an idea whether you are “safe” and ultimately whether you need to take any action before going to sleep. Even in the event of a sleeping hypo the vast majority of diabetics will wake themselves or be woken by a partner/parent to take the necessary action.

A number of diabetics tend to have some form of sugar drink or sweets such as jellybeans by their bedside which can be used in the event of a sleep hypo, giving them a sugar rush and very quickly impacting upon their blood glucose levels. Indeed many diabetics do prefer to give themselves a sugar boost just before bedtime, while ensuring their blood glucose levels don’t go too high, to be on the safe side. We’ve even seen instances of partners applying various high sugar substances such as syrup to their partner’s gums in the event of them suffering a hypo in their sleep and not waking by themselves.



There are very strong links between sleep apnea, sleep deprivation, diabetic hypos and insulin resistance which have been confirmed time and time again by a variety of different studies. The fact is that sometimes, even with the best preparation the world, a change in your regular routine, perhaps some form of illness or other elements of everyday life could bring on a hypo in your sleep.

The vast majority of these hypos will be relatively mild and indeed many diabetics may never know they actually suffered one. However, there will be occasions where potentially life-threatening hypos are experienced and both the individuals in question and their partners need to be fully aware of the reasons behind this. There are a number of relatively simple actions which you can carry out to bring blood glucose levels up to a safe level which we have detailed above.