The Link between Sleep Apnea and Diabetes

It's easy to blame the symptoms on something else—job stress, an exciting TV show right before bed, or waiting up for a teenager who's late getting home. But if you suffer from constant fatigue, chronic poor concentration, depression and a lack of energy, you may have obstructive sleep apnea and not even know it. OSA also causes something that your partner's most likely to be aware of: snoring.

"About one fourth of couples don't sleep in the same bedroom because of snoring and sleep apnea," says Matthew Mingrone, MD, a board-certified ear, nose, and throat doctor. Still, not everyone with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) snores, and the type of snoring in OSA may be broken up with periods of silence and tend to be the loudest when you're sleeping on your back. If it's not treated, sleep apnea can be deadly. It's a contributing factor in traffic accidents, since a sleepy person's a lot more likely to make errors in judgment.

For a woman with sleep apnea, insomnia can even be a symptom, says Matthew Edlund, MD, author of The Power of Rest: Why Sleep Alone Is Not Enough.

"You might have dry mouth when you wake up, feel fatigued and take a nap in the afternoon but not feel rested," he says. "Your memory may get worse and worse."

Diabetes and Sleep Apnea

If you have diabetes, you have an increased risk of having sleep apnea. In fact, the majority of patients with type 2 diabetes have obstructive sleep apnea, and the evidence shows that OSA is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Sleep apnea may be the reason why a diabetic's blood sugar is not in good control, too. It's estimated that OSA is three times as common in people with diabetes than in non-diabetics.

"In this country you have an epidemic of obesity, diabetes and sleep apnea," Edlund says.  "They're all related and a lot of it has to do with how people live."

If you suspect that you have sleep apnea, it's important to get tested. If it turns out that you do in fact have the disorder, you may get relief simply by losing weight and quitting smoking. If these don't work, the next recommendation may be for you to be fitted with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which is a machine that contains a mask that goes over your nose as you sleep and that delivers air pressure. Though it can be uncomfortable, it's also effective. But unless you have a moderate to severe case of OSA, chances are you'll start sleeping better by making some lifestyle changes.




Tasali E. Mokhlesi B., Van Cauter E. "Obstructive sleep apnea and type 2 diabetes: interacting epidemics." PubMed. U.S. National Library of Medicine. 2009 Feb; Volume 133 (2). Pages 496-506.

"Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Risk factors." Mayo Clinic.