The Link Between Sleep, Food, And Type 1 Diabetes

Friday, January 14, 2022 - 17:06

Imagine your favourite restaurant – during the day it’s a bustling place with all sorts of activities going on but after closing hours, the staff starts putting the place back together again preparing for the next day.

We could use that analogy with what goes on within our bodies. During the day, our body is fully engaged in keeping us moving and focussed on our daily activities. At night, when we sleep, our body powers down. Sleep provides a chance to rest and performs a vital role in recalibrating different hormones responsible for maintaining good health. However, getting a night of restful sleep is an often-forgotten tenet for living a healthy lifestyle.

Restful sleep becomes even more important when living with conditions such as type 1 diabetes.

Lack Of Sleep And Overeating

The effects of not getting enough sleep and its link to overeating unhealthy foods leading to unhealthy weight gain affects everyone, regardless if they are living with type 1 diabetes or not.

Two of the hormones which are regulated during sleep are leptin and ghrelin.1,2 Leptin is responsible for satiety [the mechanism for making us feel full after eating] while ghrelin is the hunger hormone [makes us feel hungry].2 When a person is sleep deprived, the level of ghrelin increases while leptin decreases. This is why a sleep-deprived person, overeats.1,2

Lack of sleep can also cause us to feel tired and lethargic making us seek fast-acting, high energy or comfort foods such as sweets, cakes, and fried foods.3 Additionally, being deprived of sleep has been shown to alter the way we perceive food – food is perceived as being a positive reward – increasing the risk of overeating.1

Poor Sleeping Habits And Its Effect On Blood Glucose

As a person living with type 1 diabetes, getting adequate, restful sleep is important to help you maintain your blood glucose. Other than its link to overeating, poor sleeping habits have been linked to higher blood glucose. The reason is due to its effect on insulin, cortisol [a stress hormone] and oxidative stress [an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body leading to tissue damage].2 Furthermore, lack of sleep could cause the development of insulin resistance [the cells ability to utilise insulin reduces, therefore, increasing the amount of insulin needed to manage blood glucose levels].4

Reasons Why Persons Living With Type 1 Diabetes Have Unrestful Sleep

Other than practicing poor sleeping habits such as going to bed late or sleeping in late, other factors may cause unrestful sleep in persons living with type 1 diabetes. These may include:

  • Hypoglycaemia:
    • Fear of experiencing hypoglycaemia at night.4
    • Experiencing night-time hypoglycaemia – waking up in cold sweats, having nightmares.2,3
  • Hyperglycaemia:
    • Increases frequency of passing urine at night.3 
    • Feeling warm and unsettled or irritable.
    • Worried or concerned about diabetes that could keep you awake at night.

Getting Restful Sleep

Though there are no specific guidelines on managing sleep for persons living with type 1 diabetes, incorporating the items listed below may help you get a restful sleep.1,2

  • Avoid heavy meals near bedtime and go for lighter ones. Heavy meals are ones that are rich in fats and carbohydrates (think, a large burger or a large plate of pasta with carbonara sauce) and lighter ones would be smaller in portion with less fat and carbohydrates (think of a medium sized salad with grilled chicken) – it can cause discomfort and could induce heartburn if you are prone to it.1
  • Have a healthy, nutritious and well-balanced meal at dinner – high calorie, high saturated fats and sugary meals with low fibre have been associated with interrupted sleep.1
  • Timing your dinner – have your last meal 3-4 hours before going to bed.
  • Avoid carbonated drinks – the gas from sodas could make you feel bloated and uncomfortable; drink water instead.
  • Gentle movement – try light stretching or slow walking after a meal to help with digestion.
  • Bedroom sanctuary – optimise your bedroom to be conducive for sleep; dim the lights, reduce noise and keep the room cool.
  • Get regular exercise during the day to help you sleep in the night – avoid performing high-intensity exercises late in the day.
  • Keep a sleep diary and establish a regular sleep schedule.
  • Avoid stimulants like caffeine or nicotine before bed.

Talk to your diabetes healthcare team to work out a plan in supporting your sleep journey if you find it challenging.

Final Thoughts

Understandably, many of us forsake a good night’s sleep to help keep us on par with our busy life. However, adequate sleep of 7-8 hours a night will ensure that our body and mind are working their optimal best to charge through the day. As a person living with type 1 diabetes, adequate and restful sleep is another vital piece that supports optimal blood glucose levels to allow you to live a quality life.

Reference

1. Sleep foundation.org. Sleep and overeating. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/. 2020 Available at: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/physical-health/sleep-and-overeating. [Accessed November 2021].

2. Sleep foundation.org. Lack of sleep and diabetes. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/. 2020 Available at: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/physical-health/lack-of-sleep-and-diabetes. [Accessed November 2021].

3. Diabetes.co.uk. Diabetes and sleep. https://www.diabetes.co.uk/. 2020 Available at: https://www.diabetes.co.uk/diabetes-and-sleep.html. [Accessed November 2021].

4. Jacobs P, Reddy R. Exercise, sleep and type 1 diabetes. In book: Neurological modulation of sleep. 2020:145-157. DOI:10.1016/B978-0-12-816658-1.00015-6.