Sleeping can be a tough task for those of us living with or parenting a child with diabetes, no doubt.
This has been a hot topic of late, as we just recently marked both National Sleep Awareness Week and World Sleep Day in March, and the TuDiabetes network hosted a community discussion on sleep and diabetes on April 9. And as it turns out, today is actually Sleep Apnea Awareness Day!
It’s also a topic that our youngest team member, Cait Patterson, knows all too well since she’s in her sleep-lacking college days. Today, she wanted to share some thoughts on approaches and tool she’s found to help her sleep better with diabetes.
Special to the ‘Mine by Cait Patterson
I’ve mentioned many a time before that I’m a college student studying health education and psychology, and lately it seems I’ve also been going for a PhD in “little sleep and excessive coffee drinking.”
So between my classroom and real-life education, I know the importance of a good night’s sleep (or more accurately, the impact anything less can have on you). And with my type 1 diabetes thrown into the mix, I’ve been seeing the firsthand effects that a poor night’s sleep can have on my diabetes management and attention span in classes.
The simple fact is that fewer than 6 hours of sleep per night on a regular basis isn’t healthy, and research even shows that non-diabetics who don’t sleep well are more at risk for type 2 diabetes because of blood sugar fluctuations caused by sleep deprivation.
A quick Google search offers a powerful illustration of other sleep and diabetes issues – including the alarming stat that more than half of type 2s have sleep apnea, which makes your throat close up while asleep. And that sleep apnea in turn can create even more mess with blood sugar control.
Stats and figures aside, no one needs to tell us how diabetes can mess with our sleep schedules. And we’ve all probably had trouble falling asleep or staying asleep after a day of roller coaster blood sugars, a pending A1C result, work stress, or just stress from being so stressed. And D-Moms and Dads who are up in the middle of the night testing and tracking blood sugars? Don’t get me started.
Meanwhile, overnight high or low blood sugars can and do interrupt our sleep regularly. There’s nothing quite like waking up in a full-on panic because your blood sugar is very quickly plummeting. Some suggest eating a small snack to prevent overnight lows. Others using long-acting insulin suggest splitting your nightly dose to be 12 hours apart instead of once every 24 hours. The most important and obvious tip is to keep hypo treatments at your bedside.
Sometimes even the fear of hypoglycemia overnight can wake you up mid-slumber. In this case, I find it’s important to manage my anxiety. Naturally, wearing a CGM (continuous glucose monitor) can help here. If you’re the type that tends to sleep through alarms, try placing the CGM in an empty glass cup (like D-blogger Kerri Sparling does) to help make the hypo-alert loud enough to wake up the entire building.
There is of course a long list of remedies for falling asleep that anyone can try: melatonin, sound soothers, darken the room, meditation, warm milk, or even reading the fine print in your insurance policy. Note: Your insurance may not cover lack of sleep, so I’ve read in a half-asleep daze…
Here are some tips and approaches that I personally use to offset sleep deprivation:
* No napping during the day!
* Don’t bring work or other outside stressors into the bedroom. The experts say you should turn off all “blue light” devices (cellphones, TV, laptops, etc.) — which is tough, since so many of us use our phones as our lifelines and alarm clocks these days.
* Somewhat ironically, I use Sleepbot, a highly recommended sleep tracker app that senses your movement and records your sounds overnight. It calculates sleep deficits for you so you can see how much sleep you’re lacking over each day or by the week. I like SleepBot because it helps me see how much I’m moving and if I’m making sounds in my sleep. The only trouble is that I find it somewhat stressful that I have to sleep with it in my bed and can’t keep it on my nightstand because it has to be close enough so the motion sensors on the phone can detect your activity. So that can keep me up at times, and kind of makes Sleepbot seem a little counterproductive.
* I swear by self-hypnosis, which I actually first heard about in an Abnormal Psychology class last semester. Any time I have trouble falling asleep, I’ll watch youtube videos of self-hypnosis to help me drift off. Basically, this is a method used to adjust your mental processes to adopt a more desirable behavior. The technique puts you in a hypnotic, relaxed state while giving suggestions to your unconscious mind. I feel this works because it directly treats anxiety, stress and restlessness at the source rather then masking the symptoms with other treatments.
* Some other interesting tips I found from Better Homes and Gardens: use earplugs if your partner snores, use an eye mask to block out all light, keep your pets out of your bed, don’t drink alcohol right before bedtime, and keep your bedroom cool. Your body drops two degrees in temperature from the first stage of sleep to the fifth, so a cool room will help that process.
Different methods work for each person, but after a little trial and error, most people find a solution. And if you can’t find a solution, eventually trying all these different methods will make you tired.
It’s also much harder to find solutions when your problem is trouble staying asleep. Many people describe waking up at a certain time in the middle of the night “like clock work.” Which is true, your body does actually have a clock. It’s called circadian rhythm.
Your circadian rhythm responds to light and dark stimuli, and controls the hormones and other biological processes that make you sleepy or awake. The part of your brain that controls your circadian rhythm will automatically release melatonin in the evening and continue to release it during the night. You run out of melatonin — you run out of sleep time.
Any change of routine can affect your circadian rhythm. (Hence the ‘rhythm’ part of circadian rhythm.) This is why it’s so important to “be regular”: go to sleep around the same time every night, have a daily exercise routine — that isn’t while you’re watching the late night talk shows — eat regular meals, and also keep your blood sugars in check (yada, yada). Having a regular routine will help your body know when it’s sleep time and when it’s the appropriate time to be awake and alert.
If you’re really suffering from ongoing sleep problems, it’s important to keep track of what’s going on, and relate this information to your doctor. Track your unrestful sleep, either using a journal or sleep app. Know your own triggers to a bad night’s sleep. Sometimes, meds like antihistamines or antidepressants are a dependable and safe option for sleep troubles because the sedative effect of these drugs can help the body slip into a relaxed state (although experts say they shouldn’t be used long-term).
There’s one phrase that echoes in my mind after eight semesters of health classes: “Your body is a very powerful machine.” A very odd machine with many strange processes that keep it functioning. Nonetheless, it is important to treat it well and keep it running by respecting it. Being aware of your body is a great way to guarantee a good night’s sleep. And without the sleep it needs, your body won’t have the energy to take you successfully through your day — and your life.