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Chronic sleep issues: risk for diabetes, heart disease

When you don’t sleep well, you might be able to get through the day with caffeine or sugar or whatever you rely on to keep up your energy. But if you suffer from insomnia or any other condition that regularly interferes with your sleep, there might be worse consequences for your health than just drowsiness.

“The longer you suffer from insomnia, the higher the risk is of developing Type 2 diabetes or a cardiovascular disease,” said Kaninika Verma, MD, the clinical sleep director for OSF HealthCare who sees patients across Central Illinois.

Your health at stake

With prolonged insomnia or other sleep issues, your body is under stress and releases stress hormones. These hormones are useful for your fight or flight response to severe fear, a short-term need. But some stress hormones cause your liver to release glucose, and when this happens chronically, your body develops a resistance to insulin, leading to Type 2 diabetes.

Other hormones can affect your appetite, leading to increased hunger, more eating and weight gain, which increases your risk of heart disease and other serious health issues.

Type 2 diabetes is progressive, according to Sonia Gajula, MD, an endocrinologist at OSF Medical Group – Endocrinology & Diabetes in Peoria. It evolves over time. Her job as a physician is to stop that progression with a multidisciplinary approach that includes sleep health.

“A big portion of our treatment for diabetes focuses on lifestyle modification, and that should include sleep care,” Dr. Gajula said. “Patients with Type 2 diabetes often have sleep apnea as well. If you’re not sleeping well, you can have trouble responding to diabetes treatment, and if you don’t regulate your sleep well, we will not see good outcomes in the long run.

“If you’re not getting the quality of sleep you need, you need to speak to a sleep doctor,” Dr. Gajula added.

Take action to rest better

Adults need at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night, according to Dr. Verma, the sleep specialist. Your ability to sleep is actually a recognized indicator of your health.

“Sleep is essential for the way our body functions,” said Dr. Verma. “We need to take care of our body as a whole, and sleep is a keystone to that whole process.”

If you’re having difficulty sleeping, recognizing it is the first step. Scheduling an appointment with a sleep doctor should be your second step.

In the meantime, you should try to figure out why you have trouble initiating or maintaining sleep. Some people are simply predisposed to sleep troubles. Some may have slept well until something happened in their life, causing a change to their ability to sleep. Others have habits or behaviors – like afternoon napping or late caffeine drinks – that make healthy sleep more challenging.

What do you think is causing your sleep troubles? Take your theory and speak with a sleep doctor about it. There are many different approaches, and a combination of approaches that the professionals can help you use to improve your sleep, which should help you feel better and be healthier.

One thing you can do on your own is to help train your brain to fall asleep in your bedroom by removing electronics – smartphones, laptops, televisions – from the environment.

“We have essentially invited the whole world into our bedroom with all this technology,” said Dr. Verma. “Our mind is boundless, so now we have to learn to retrain our brain to put up boundaries, so it shuts down when we go to bed.”

Find out if you may be at risk for developing sleep apnea with our simple online assessment tool.

Last Updated: April 18, 2022

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About Author: Ken Harris

Ken Harris is the proudest father and was a writing coordinator for the Marketing & Communications division of OSF HealthCare.

He has a bachelor's in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked as a daily newspaper reporter for four years before leaving the field and eventually finding his way to OSF HealthCare.

In his free time, Ken likes reading, fly fishing, hanging out with his dog and generally pestering his lovely, patient wife.

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Categories: Diabetes