Around 4 million people in the UK live with diabetes – and it’s estimated that sleep apnoea affects up to 50% of all diabetics.
The link between Type 2 diabetes and sleep apnoea is well-proven. A 2014 study found that of 8,678 adults with sleep disordered breathing, nearly 12% went on to develop Type 2 diabetes. Adjustments for risk factors were considered too (aspects known to increase someone’s chances of developing the sleep disorder). These included age, gender, BMI, neck circumference and smoking. People with severe sleep apnoea were found to have a 30% higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes than people with who didn’t suffer from sleep apnoea.
Diabetes and sleep apnoea: which came first?
It’s extremely difficult to say which condition triggers the other. Having diabetes could cause sleep disordered breathing, but having sleep apnoea could also lead to diabetes.
Can diabetes cause sleep apnoea?
Diabetics often experience poor sleep at night because high glucose levels cause the kidneys to create excess sugar. This makes them need the bathroom often, and their sleep suffers as a result.
They also struggle with leptin resistance, which weakens breathing patterns during sleep. This could explain why people with diabetes are more at risk of developing sleep apnoea.
Can sleep apnoea cause diabetes?
Sleep apnoea is caused by a narrowing of the airway. When the airway closes completely, the oxygen in the bloodstream decreases. A person’s body then experiences hypoxia. The brain will send chemical messages to the lungs, urging them to breathe. When the blocked airway stops this from happening, the brain will send a rush of stress hormones to the bloodstream to wake the person up so they can breathe again.
If it’s left untreated, this sleep disordered breathing can lead to elevated blood sugar levels and diminished insulin sensitivity. Somebody with sleep apnoea could then develop diabetes.
Is there a cure?
If you suspect you have sleep apnoea or diabetes, visit your doctor as soon as possible. They can test for both conditions and potentially treat the two simultaneously.
Snoring or any potential sleep disordered breathing needs to be carefully monitored in diabetics. Treating sleep apnoea is shown to decrease and stabilize blood sugar levels in diabetics.
A CPAP machine uses air pressure to force air through the obstruction to your breathing. This can significantly improve blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity. For those with mild to moderate sleep apnoea, an oral device can also help treat your sleep disorder. An oral device is similar to a mouth guard, and gently repositions your jaw while you sleep. This opens your airway, and helps you breathe easily and quietly.