Diabetes and Sleep Apnea: What You Need To Know

Manage your sleep apnea in order to manage your diabetes

Mature woman having a nap in clothes on bed

Do you snore? Do you feel fatigued every day? Do you wake up frequently throughout the night? It may be that the shallow breathing or breaks in breathing caused by sleep apnea are the reason. If you have diabetes, it is critical to manage your sleep apnea in order to manage your diabetes. Some 18 million Americans are diagnosed with sleep apnea, but millions more have it and don’t know it.

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If you have diabetes, sleep apnea can make it almost impossible for you to manage your diabetes. This is because sleep apnea causes a pause in your breathing while you sleep and increases carbon dioxide in your blood, which leads to:

  • Insulin resistance so that the body doesn’t use insulin effectively. This causes more sugar in the blood stream leading to high blood sugars
  • Chronic elevated blood pressure
  • A higher incidence of heart problems or cardiovascular disease
  • Early morning headaches

Inadequate rest or sleep can also lead to lack of motivation to exercise or plan meals. This often leads to irritability, which can affect relationships with family, friends and coworkers. Sleepiness also can cause people to forget to take their medications and lead to further diabetes complications.

Sleep apnea may be genetically linked and it is most commonly found in those who are overweight or obese, people who smoke and are over the age of 40.

Could you have an obstruction?

There are different types of sleep apnea, one of which is obstructed sleep apnea (or OSA), which is when breathing is interrupted by a physical block to airflow. With OSA, snoring is common. The National Institutes of Health report that 12 million Americans have OSA, and for people with type 2 diabetes it is a common condition to have.

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Research shows that an increase in severity of OSA is correlated with poorer glucose control. If you have diabetes and have the following symptoms, you should talk to your doctor about doing a sleep study to learn if you have sleep apnea:

  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Snoring
  • Feeling tired or fatigued most of the time

To diagnose sleep apnea, you can undergo a sleep test called a polysomnogram, which is a test that records body functions while you sleep. The test measures eye movements, electrical brain activity, muscle activity, heart rate, breathing and blood oxygen levels.   

Sleep apnea can be treated with CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure). This is a mask that you wear over the nose and mouth when you sleep. Air pressure from the machine forces air through the nose. This keeps the throat from closing during sleep.

If you have diabetes, the bottom line is you want to know if you have sleep apnea, because you need to manage the sleep apnea in order to manage your diabetes. Not to mention, you will feel so much better with a good night’s rest!

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Sue Cotey and Andrea Harris, RNs

Sue Cotey, RN, CDE, and Andrea Harris, RN, CDE, are Diabetes Educators with the Lennon Diabetes Center at the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Health Center. Sue is the Program Coordinator.
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