Type 1 diabetes and sleep

A good night’s sleep isn’t so easy if you have type 1 diabetes, and not getting enough good sleep can affect your blood sugar levels. Find ways to sleep for longer.

When it comes to top tips for managing diabetes, food and getting active are on everyone’s “must do more” list – but sleep is just as vital. A 2018 study into the sleep of children and young adults with type 1 diabetes found that only a few of them got enough sleep. It’s a similar story for adults.

Lack of sleep leads to health issues

Not sleeping can have a big impact on managing diabetes including:

  • impact on blood sugar levels
  • more carb cravings
  • insulin resistance
  • weight gain

This vicious sleep cycle is hard to break because low/high blood sugars can stop us from sleeping, so we get even more tired and we snack to get energy, which affects our blood sugars

Common sleep problems for type 1 diabetes

Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is when you have problems breathing while asleep. Some studies have found as many as 30 per cent of adults with type 1 diabetes have OSA - and most of them have a normal weight.

You may have this if you feel tired during the day or snore lots at night, so see your GP as more checks will be needed to see if you have OSA.

OSA is often easily treated by wearing a breathing device at night that forces small amounts of oxygen into your airways so you breath better.

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) 

If you have crawling, tingling or painful feelings in the legs but only when you’re resting, you may have RLS, which is common in people with type 1 diabetes.

RLS can be caused by high blood glucose levels, thyroid disorders, and kidney problems – but smoking, too much caffeine or an iron deficiency are also causes. Regular exercise, massages or using a cold cloth on the area can help, or you may need some extra iron.

But check with your GP first before taking or doing anything, as you need to get a diagnosis first. If the urge to move your legs doesn’t go away with activity, or if there is constant nerve pain or tingling as well, you might have neuropathy (nerve pain) issue.

Night seizures

Very low blood sugar levels can cause seizures which often happen at night, so you may not notice the warning signs when asleep.

Insulin pumps with continuous blood glucose monitoring can help reduce the risk of seizures from dangerous night-time lows.

Top tips for good sleep

A bedtime routine really helps everyone, so get into the habit of doing certain things every night if you can. For instance:

  • Go to bed and get up at roughly the same time because if you mess around with your biological clock, your body won’t know whether to sleep or not.
  • No caffeine, smoking or working too close to bedtime, as these are all stimulants that tell your body to wake up.
  • Stop staring at your computer at least an hour before bed because our eyes read the blue light from phones, tablets and laptops as sunlight.
  • Wind down with a book or music.
  • Keep your sleeping area at a good temperature and make sure the room is dark enough.
  • If you have pets, they are best kept out of the bedroom at night, to avoid disturbing your sleep.
  • Check out the new Sleepio tool below it may help you improve your sleep.

Visit the North West London Sleepio tool