Sleep and Your Blood Sugar (It’s a Big Deal)
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To say I am a self-improvement enthusiast would be putting it lightly—I thrive on health and fitness campaigns, keeping abreast on all the latest science regarding diet, and experimenting with new ways to improve everything from my health to my ability to run my business. I am part Choctaw and have been aware that people of Native American descent have a higher susceptibility to getting Type 2 diabetes. Knowing that I have lived for well over a decade with very few refined carbs—sticking mainly to veggies—and almost zero refined sugar has given me a kind of ‘not me—never’ feeling regarding diabetes. However, while listening to a favorite podcast, a renowned doctor that I have admired for some time started to talk about how he has been making sleep a priority due to the unbelievable connection between lack of sleep and type 2 diabetes. Wait! No! Like many self-improvement junkies, sleep often takes a back seat. It takes a lot of time to be a self-improvement junkie. However, for the past three weeks I have been trying to come to terms that my typical four hours of sleep a night might be the worst thing possible—and that all the other things I do like routine exercise and a daily giant salad might be voided out by not getting enough sleep.
The science is pretty overwhelming. “Your sleep habits can affect many things about your health—your weight, your immune system, even how well your brain works. But it also plays a key role in controlling your blood sugar (or glucose), which affects your chance of getting diabetes.” (How Sleep Affects Your Blood Sugar, webmd.com, March 27, 2017). It’s not a small effect either: “Conclusions: Partial sleep deprivation during only a single night induces insulin resistance in multiple metabolic pathways in healthy subjects. This physiological observation may be of relevance for variations in glucose regulation in patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.” (A Single Night of Partial Sleep Deprivation Induces Insulin Resistance in Multiple Metabolic Pathways in Healthy Subjects by Donga E, Van Dijk M, Van Dijk JG, Biermasz NR, Lammers GJ, Van Dralingen KW, Gressmit EP, Romijn JA, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, June 2010) Essentially, even after one night of sleeping four hours or less, a healthy person’s blood glucose levels can look like those of a diabetic, and it is believed that chronic sleep deprivation can be a contributing factor to getting diabetes.
Lack of sleep is not only a contributing factor towards getting diabetes; it can be a crucial factor to consider for people who have diabetes. “Sleep is usually an afterthought in diabetes, taking a back seat to food, exercise, medication, and glucose monitoring. It took me a long time—and a lot of my own data—to realize that sleeping well is actually a mission-critical blood sugar strategy.” (Sleep: The Most Forgotten Blood Sugar Strategy by Adam Brown, 6/22/17, diatribe.org) For people who have diabetes, it is extremely important to put sleep high on your priority list. There was one curious thing to consider in my research regarding sleep and diabetes and that is that too much sleep can also be harmful. The healthy range for people to keep healthy glucose levels is between 6.5 and 8.5 hours of sleep a night. Oddly, people who slept 9 hours or more rose their risk of diabetes. (How Sleep Affects Your Blood Sugar, webmd.com, March 27, 2017)
It’s important to note that while I am a self-improvement junkie, I am far, far, far from perfect and am just as riddled as anyone with bad habits that I am at times either unwilling or unable to quit. I have to admit this whole sleep project has been humbling. So, while I can easily pass on bread or dessert, I am learning that passing on marathoning TV shows like History Channel’s Ancient Aliens or TLC’s 90 Day Fiancé (which I did just last night) has been nearly impossible to quit. Worse still, even if I am able to get to bed before midnight, I find it impossible to not watch a little YouTube (more alien stuff or Vice docs—come on—so fun) or scroll through my Facebook newsfeed in bed before official lights out. The problem is that blue light (the light on your phone or computer) is especially bad when trying to sleep. Other helpful things are to keep the room cool and dark. I’m good with the cool—I actually like it freezing—bad regarding the dark as I am afraid of the dark and need a light on. Essentially, I am finding this whole project sleep thing to be a lot more difficult than I imagined. There are some good books out there and a lot of great information online. I personally read Arianna Huffington’s book The Sleep Revolution. It will scare you ‘sleep-straight’ and will give you a lot of great tips. She also has a website with a book excerpt and some helpful tips for free. You can find Arianna Huffington's The Sleep Revolution site here.
I think a lot of people are surprised when I talk about my sleep project. Our culture values hard work and ‘all-nighters’ far more than putting sleep on the top of our health priorities. I am one of those people who used to put little value on sleep. However, it’s impossible to ignore the diabetes epidemic in our culture and the possible connection to the little value we place on sleep. In fact, I would argue many people actually brag how little they sleep they get. The truth is that increasingly science is proving that getting enough sleep is profoundly important not only for our physical health but to our overall wellbeing. And just to really hammer in the importance of sleep and its relationship to blood sugar levels I’ll leave you with this quote:
“[Sleep] has a strong connection to diabetes: studies repeatedly show too little sleep is associated with higher A1c and blood glucose levels; greater insulin resistance; depression; lower quality of life; and beyond.” (Sleep: The Most Forgotten Blood Sugar Strategy by Adam Brown, 6/22/17, diatribe.org)
Happy dreaming everyone.
"Sleep and a Healthy Life" TedX Talk by Jonathan Wisor (16:23)
Jennifer Barnick is a painter and writer. She studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. She founded Twenty-two Twenty-eight. “One of the most exciting aspects of Twenty-two Twenty-eight is building a channel for artists and writers to share their work with the world.”
Check out Jennifer’s book. You can read the first short story for free on Amazon here.