Diabetes: Sleep On It

Diabetes and sleep apnea have an unholy alliance of sorts: there's no cure for either, but both can be controlled.

The connection is even closer. Studies show that approximately 40 percent of all diabetic men also have obstructive sleep apnea. Want more common ground? Many of these men with both conditions don't know that they have it. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one-third of all Americans with diabetes haven't been diagnosed yet.

While that's high, the numbers are even more shocking regarding sleep apnea. More than 80 percent of men with moderate to severe sleep apnea haven't been diagnosed. A cocktail of unmanaged diabetes and sleep apnea can be more lethal than most people might know, which can lead to heart disease and even death.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a disorder in which the tissues at the back of the throat temporarily collapse during sleep, causing repeated stops and starts in breathing during the night. These pauses can last from a few seconds to several minutes, and often occur five to 30 times or more an hour. And more recently, sleep apnea has been linked to resistance to the blood-sugar-lowering hormone insulin. Insulin resistance is a precursor to diabetes.

What to Do

First, it's important to consult your medical team to determine the best option in concert with your diabetes treatment.

  • Lose weight! One of the main factors that cause sleep apnea in those with diabetes is being overweight. In fact, a new Temple University study reported by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine shows that weight loss may reduce the severity of obstructive sleep apnea in some people who also have type 2 diabetes.

  • Avoid or limit alcohol. You don't have to be a chemist to know what happens to alcohol when it enters your system: it becomes sugar. Not only does this affect your blood-glucose levels, but also drinking alcohol, especially before going to bed, can relax the airway compounding your sleep apnea condition.

  • CPAP. Ask your physician about oral appliances, such as a continuous positive airway pressure device, which can help keep the airway open as you sleep. In sleep studies, some people with diabetes have found that use of CPAP might actually improve insulin sensitivity over time.

  • Surgery. The use of surgery can create a more open airway so obstructions are less likely to occur. Those with diabetes should talk with their physician to weigh whether it fits with their diabetes management program.
Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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