Welcome to Flawed yet Functional where you and I are both working to live a life free from autoimmune symptoms. I’m so glad you’re here and would love to chat with you today about sleep and diabetes! We all know we should sleep more, but sleep has an even bigger impact when the body is compromised in some way. It is of utmost importance that diabetics get proper sleep and I’d love to show you why.
Sleep and Blood Sugar
The circadian rhythm is the 24-hour cycle of your body systems/rhythms and it is set by a consistent go-to-bed and wake time. While it is good for your emotional and physical health to keep that rhythm steady, it also impacts your daily blood sugar, beginning with your fasting or morning blood sugar.
In a diabetic body, erratic sleep can cause the fasting blood sugar to be higher in the morning which starts the day off from a place of difficulty. It is much harder to have steady blood sugars throughout the day when the day is begun high.
There is a phenomenon called the dawn effect where your body raises your blood sugar by releasing glucose from your muscles just before wake time. This is a natural response and absolutely acceptable. We don’t want to prevent it because it helps us get ready to go for the day.
The problem arises when our wake time is different every day. That dawn effect might trigger too early or late leaving your body unprepared for the day. The result of inconsistent sleep is high blood fasting blood sugar (body is releasing glucose too soon before wake time) or lethargy/difficulty waking (body is releasing glucose too late). Keeping a consistent sleep and wake time will help keep that rhythm steady and your blood sugars steady.
Why Should a Diabetic Make A Habit of Good Sleep?
Blood sugar control is the key to a diabetic’s long term health. If blood sugar is kept under control (using diet, exercise, and wise insulin use), then a diabetic has better circulation, kidney protection, nerve function, and many more things. Blood sugar must be kept within normal range for the best functioning of the diabetic’s whole body.
If sleep is critical to blood sugar management, then diabetics need to make good sleep a habit. Deep, consistent, and sufficient sleep will lead to lower fasting blood sugar and more stable daily blood sugar which has huge ramifications for long-term health.
How to Get Better Sleep
But how you might ask? How do you get better sleep? How do you fall asleep right away and stay asleep all night? Here are a few tips that I have worked through in my life personally that have changed my sleep from shallow and short to falling asleep quickly and staying asleep all night.
Create a Consistent Sleep/Wake Cycle
The biggest change in my life is simply going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time, every day. Even on the weekends, I keep the same bedtime and wake time. While this probably sounds repressive and terrible to you right now, who doesn’t like to sleep in on the weekends? Once you see that a consistent sleep/wake time will allow you to fall asleep quicker and sleep more soundly, you will be on board!
Now that I have been going to bed at the same time for over a year I can feel my body start to shut down at night and it’s telling me that sleep time is here. Since my body is already getting tired at 9:30 or 9:45 when I lay down at 10, I fall asleep very quickly.
Schedule and consistency are very important, but that’s just one piece of the pie. Changing your diet and your eating habits is also another factor.
No Alcohol or Dessert Close to Bedtime
I don’t have medical studies to support this, but once I started changing my diet eating more vegetables, fruit, and healthy meats, I began to sleep better. Another big factor for me is to not eat sweets or alcohol right before bed. This one is a struggle though because once the kids go to bed my husband and I just want to relax have a snack and a drink. But I have noticed that I have crazy dreams and a difficult time falling asleep when I eat too close to bedtime. So even though it is difficult to have your food and drinks done two hours before your bedtime, you will be grateful for the more restful sleep.
Shut Screens Off Before Bed
There is so much research supporting that screen time is a poor habit to have when trying to sleep better. Screens stimulate your eyes and your brain in a way that is different than reading a book or talking with someone prior to bed. The brain has a hard time shutting down after looking at a screen. So if you are trying to improve your sleep, decreasing your screen time prior to bed is a great place to start.
Develop a Bedtime Routine
As much as we don’t like to admit it, our bodies thrive on routine. Just like a morning routine is super helpful for getting your day started in an energetic and productive manner, a bedtime routine preps your body for rest.
If you’re struggling with your morning routine check out this free 5-day challenge!
A bedtime routine it’s just important to give your body all the signs that the day is done and it’s time to wind down. Just as you sat down and developed a morning routine, sit down and list out a few things that just plain need to get done at bedtime or would help you to relax.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Gratefulness journal to reflect on what you are thankful for from that day.
- Brain dump of all the things you need to do tomorrow (so you don’t worry about them tonight!).
- Doing the face washing, teeth brushing, flossing, or any other hygiene things in the same order every night.
- Setting an alarm to remind you to shut the screens off 30 minutes before bedtime.
A bedtime routine doesn’t need to be long and involved. A helpful routine is one that accomplishes its purpose (in this case prepping for rest) and is doable in your life (this means that a long, drawn-out bedtime routine complete with stretching, a relaxing bath, etc. is not likely).
Sleep is so important to maintaining good health as a diabetic. In our culture, business and productivity are praised, so it’s hard to focus on sleep as it seems unproductive and possibly lazy. But sleep and diabetes go hand-in-hand. If you want to have good blood sugar control, and energy to face the day and all the demands that come with type 1 diabetes then you must work at getting good sleep. Use these strategies to start developing a nighttime routine and working to improve your sleep!
Emily, thank you so much for this information! I’m a T1D of 45 yrs. I have struggled with sleeping for about 10-15 years. My family has voiced concerns and I always think I’ll do better which I will for about a week or two then I’m back to 2-6 hours of sleep a night. Reading your article explained why sleep is so important with Type 1 Diabetes, I never took the time to research what the big deal was for, now I know and I really feel like I am going to make the changes I need to for myself and my family so I’ll be here to enjoy life with the people I love!❤️ Again, thank you! It’s 2am, time to get some sleep!
Glad it was helpful!
Hi. I am wondering what you would suggest if you have a high reading during “wind down time”? If my husband has a high reading when it’s really time for us to get to bed he will stay up to workout to get it down but then that pushes his sleep back which then affects his next day. Do you know of any therapist who have specific knowledge of a person living type 1