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Unveiling the Link Between Diabetes and Sleep Apnea

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Many benefits come with advanced living, but serious health challenges also accompany them. Major health conditions people commonly struggle with are diabetes and sleep apnea. But can sleep apnea cause diabetes? This question increasingly catches the medical community’s attention.

This correlation between sleep apnea and diabetes, when deeply examined, paves a clear path toward better understanding and finding varied treatments and management methods for these conditions, such as positive airway pressure treatment.

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes is an illness resulting from the pancreas producing insufficient or ineffective amounts of insulin, which causes the body to use its own poorly. In order for the bloodstream to transport glucose from our diet into the body’s cells, where it is transformed into energy, the pancreas has to produce the hormone insulin.

Blood glucose levels rise when the body is unable to make or use insulin as intended (known as hyperglycemia). Elevated blood glucose levels have been linked, over time, to organ and tissue failure as well as damage to the body.

There are two main types of diabetes:

  • Type 1. This is less common but more severe as the body’s immune system destroys and attacks insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
  • Type 2. This is more common and is often linked to obesity, a factor also crucial in sleep apnea. In patients with Type 2 diabetes, the body struggles to use the insulin it makes successfully and effectively.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

When a person experiences breathing disruptions while they are asleep, it can lead to a serious condition called sleep apnea. Untreated sleep apnea can result in individuals experiencing hundreds of episodes of paused breathing throughout the night. This implies that the brain and other body parts might not be receiving enough oxygen.

There are two types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). Breathing irregularly during sleep is a common and serious side effect of this sleep disorder. This happens when the throat muscles intermittently relax and block the airway during sleep. It often results in poor sleep quality and excessive daytime sleepiness, and it might increase the risk of stroke, heart disease, and other health complications.
  • Central Sleep Apnea. This occurs when your breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep. This condition results from your brain’s inability to communicate with the muscles that regulate your breathing properly. It is less common than Obstructive Sleep Apnea and often occurs in individuals with certain medical conditions or who take certain medications.

What Are the Signs of Sleep Apnea?

  • Excessive Daytime Sleepiness. People with sleep apnea often feel excessively sleepy during the day, even after a full night’s rest. This may make it harder to focus on everyday duties or to stay awake.
  • Loud and Frequent Snoring. A common symptom of this condition is snoring, especially in those who have obstructive sleep apnea. The snoring is often loud and may be accompanied by gasping or choking sounds.
  • Witnessed Pauses in Breathing. Bed partners or roommates may notice episodes where the person with sleep apnea stops breathing or has shallow breathing during sleep.
  • Morning Headaches. Regular headaches in the morning may indicate sleep apnea. Decreased oxygen levels cause this during sleep and the strain on the cardiovascular system.
  • Dry Mouth or Sore Throat. People with sleep apnea may breathe through their mouths while they are asleep, which may cause them to wake up with sore throats or dry mouths.
  • Insomnia or Restless Sleep. People with sleep apnea may experience difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep. They may also toss and turn frequently during the night.
  • Mood and Personality Changes. Mood changes, personality changes, and irritability can all be caused by sleep apnea. Furthermore, it has the potential to worsen mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

What Are the Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea?


CPAP Therapy

The most commonly used and reliable sleep apnea treatment is Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP). It involves putting a mask over the mouth or nose while you sleep, which provides a steady stream of air pressure to maintain an open airway. This effect helps to prevent pauses in breathing and allows for uninterrupted sleep.

Dental Appliances

Oral appliances or dental devices can be used to treat mild to moderate cases of sleep apnea. These devices help to reposition the jaw and tongue, keeping the airway open during sleep. They are custom-made by dentists and can provide relief for those who cannot tolerate CPAP therapy.

Lifestyle Changes

Adults with sleep apnea may see improvements in their symptoms with specific lifestyle changes. These include:

  • Sleeping on your side instead of your back to avoid the tongue getting in the way of your breathing
  • Staying away from alcohol and sedatives that relax the throat muscles
  • Maintaining a healthy weight because excess weight can contribute to airway blockage
  • Creating a regular sleep schedule to improve the quality of your sleep

Positional Therapy

Some individuals with sleep apnea experience fewer incidents of breathing pauses when sleeping on their side. Positional therapy involves using devices or strategies to encourage side-sleeping and discourage sleeping on the back, such as special pillows or positional alarms.

Surgical Interventions

When nonsurgical treatments are not effective, a surgical procedure may be suggested in certain cases to treat sleep apnea. These can include:

  • Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP).This procedure involves removing excess tissue from the back of the throat and palate to widen the airway.
  • Maxillomandibular Advancement (MMA). MMA surgery repositions the jaw to enlarge the space behind the tongue and improve airflow.
  • Tracheostomy. This is a last-resort option, typically reserved for severe or life-threatening cases of sleep apnea. It involves creating a permanent opening in the neck to bypass the blocked airway.

How Does Sleep Apnea Cause Diabetes?


Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance, a major contributing factor to the development of type 2 diabetes, especially in individuals with diabetes, has been linked to sleep apnea. A condition known as insulin resistance occurs when the body’s cells do not react to insulin as they should.

While the exact mechanism behind this link is not fully understood, it may involve the impact of intermittent hypoxemia, sleep fragmentation, and oxidative stress, all of which can impair insulin signalling and glucose metabolism. Addressing and managing sleep apnea is crucial for the overall well-being and glucose control of individuals with diabetes.

Disrupted Glucose Control

Sleep apnea can disrupt the regulation of blood glucose levels in the body, potentially contributing to the development of type 2 diabetes. The disruptions caused by sleep apnea, such as intermittent drops in blood oxygen levels (hypoxemia) and sleep fragmentation, can lead to glucose intolerance and reduced insulin sensitivity.

Higher blood sugar levels and an increased chance of type 2 diabetes can arise from this. Treating and addressing sleep apnea can mitigate these risks and maintain overall health.

Inflammation and Oxidative Stress

Sleep apnea is related to increased inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. These conditions can impair insulin signaling, disrupt glucose metabolism, and contribute to the development of diabetes. Oxidative stress and inflammation are believed to be key factors underlying the link between sleep apnea and insulin resistance.

Hormonal Imbalances

Sleep apnea can disrupt the balance of various hormones involved in glucose regulation, such as insulin, cortisol, and growth hormone. For example, sleep apnea can lead to elevated cortisol levels, which can impair insulin action and contribute to insulin resistance. These hormonal imbalances can worsen problems in glucose metabolism and raise the chance of developing diabetes.


Obesity, a common risk factor for sleep apnea and diabetes, often coexist, especially in an obese patient. Both disorders can arise as a result of being overweight. In an obese patient, obesity is associated with insulin resistance, increased inflammation, and impaired glucose metabolism, all of which can escalate the risk of developing diabetes.

How Does Sleep Apnea Affect Diabetes Management?

  • Impaired Glycemic Control. Impaired glucose tolerance has been related to poor sleep quality, abnormal glucose metabolism, and suboptimal blood sugar control, hindering the effective management of diabetes.
  • Reduced Medication Effectiveness. Sleep-deprived patients with diabetes may find the effectiveness of their medication reduced. Medication aiming to lower glucose levels may not work as efficiently in the presence of sleep apnea.
  • Increased Risk of Diabetic Complications. Poor sleep or chronic sleep deprivation in diabetic patients increases the risk of severe diabetic complications like cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, and peripheral neuropathy, further underscoring the importance of good sleep health.
  • Insulin Resistance Connection. Insulin resistance, a disorder in which the body’s cells do not react to insulin, has been linked to sleep apnea. Elevated blood sugar levels and trouble controlling diabetes may result from this.
  • Weight Management Struggles. Obesity and weight gain have been connected to sleep apnea, which both pose a danger for developing and worsening diabetes. The disrupted sleep patterns and hormonal imbalances caused by sleep apnea can contribute to weight gain, making people with diabetes find management more challenging.

Best Lifestyle Practices to Prevent Sleep Apnea

  • Maintain a Healthy Weight. One of the main risk factors for this condition is obesity. Being overweight can result in fat deposits around the upper airway, which can impede peaceful sleep breathing. A balanced diet and regular exercise will help you reach and keep a healthy weight, which will dramatically lower your risk of developing sleep apnea.
  • Avoid Smoking and Excessive Alcohol Consumption. Smoking and alcohol have been linked to an increased risk of sleep apnea. Smoking irritates the airways, leading to inflammation and blockage, while alcohol relaxes throat muscles, making them more prone to collapse during sleep. Restricting alcohol intake and quitting smoking can improve your sleep quality and overall health.
  • Establish a Regular Sleep Schedule. Consistency in sleep patterns can promote better sleep hygiene and reduce the risk of sleep apnea. Even on the weekends, try to get to bed and wake up at the same time every day. This regularity helps regulate your body’s internal clock and ensures sufficient and uninterrupted sleep.
  • Sleep on Your Side. The soft tissues and tongue in your throat can collapse when you sleep on your back and obstruct your airway, leading to sleep apnea episodes. Sleeping on your side or using a pillow to encourage side sleeping can help keep the airway open and improve breathing during sleep.
  • Sleep-Friendly Bedroom Setup. Create a sleep-friendly environment by making your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool. Use earplugs, white noise machines, and blackout curtains, if necessary, to minimize disturbances and create a tranquil atmosphere that promotes uninterrupted sleep.
  • Practice Good Sleep Hygiene. Adopting healthy sleep habits can contribute to overall well-being and prevent sleep apnea. Create a nightly schedule or bedtime routine that incorporates reading or taking a warm bath to signal your body that it is time to unwind. Avoid stimulating activities, bright screens, and heavy meals close to bedtime.
  • Elevate Your Head While Sleeping. Using an adjustable bed or wedge pillow to raise the head of your mattress can assist in maintaining an open airway and lessen the severity of symptoms associated with sleep apnea. Elevating the upper body helps prevent the collapse of neck tissues and facilitates smoother breathing.
  • Maintain Good Nasal Health. Keep your nasal passages clear and free from congestion by using saline sprays or rinses. This can improve airflow and reduce breathing difficulties during sleep, lowering the risk of sleep apnea.

Take Control of Your Health Today: Partner With Us for Quality Sleep

The link between diabetes and sleep problems is much more significant than previously thought. As we understand more about this connection, it becomes more evident that a comprehensive approach to managing these conditions is necessary. This can prove fruitful not only for those living with these conditions but also for healthcare professionals aiming for improved care and better patient outcomes.

Don’t sleep on taking care of your health. Reach out to our team at Healthy Sleep Midwest for a reliable partner who can help you achieve quality sleep. Begin your journey towards a good night’s rest with us.