The connection between sleep apnea and diabetes has been apparent for some time now. A 2007 study by Yale researchers
found that sleep apnea increases a person’s risk of acquiring diabetes by two-and-a-half times, and scientists were recently able to effectively link moderate and severe cases of sleep apnea with the onset of Type 2 diabetes
. According to Brian Kent, a research fellow at St. Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin who helped distinguish the connection between the two conditions in 2012, “our study shows that (obstructive sleep apnea) is independently associated with metabolic disturbances. This is important because people with (diabetes) … are more likely to die of cardiovascular disease.”
New research suggests the connection may be deeper than previously believed. Not only can sleep apnea make a person’s chances of acquiring diabetes more likely, but the breathing disturbances associated with sleep apnea can exacerbate the primary problem
those with diabetes suffer from: blood sugar control.
Breathing pauses (apneas) often occur during the rapid eye movement (REM) phase of sleep. REM can be considered a period of “deep sleep,” and is vital for securing a good night’s rest. A study by researchers from the University of Chicago found that apneas that occur during REM are particularly debilitating for blood sugar control, especially since REM mostly occurs late in the night, when many patients have removed their CPAP masks.
The doctors conducting the study concluded that sleep apnea “may influence long-term glycemic control,” and that the “benefits of CPAP therapy may not be achieved with … 4 (hours of therapy) per night.” Essentially, apneas during REM are particularly harmful to blood sugar control, and REM occurs during the period of the night where sleep apnea sufferers are least likely to be wearing their mask.
So, how bad is this new development for sleep apnea sufferers? It’s clearly not good news, in the sense that the new research only makes the link between sleep apnea and diabetes stronger. There could be some auxiliary benefits, however, if patients use this information to reinforce their positive sleep apnea therapy habits.
The research suggests that diabetes does not come from the inherent condition itself, but rather from how the disease is mismanaged by patients. Essentially, sleep apnea will only worsen diabetes in cases where patients consistently suffer from apneas, particularly apneas during REM. Patients who are able to diligently manage their condition, and able to regularly wear their CPAP mask
throughout the night, are far less likely to have sleep apnea drive their blood sugar levels out of control than those who ignore their sleep apnea therapy or people who are unaware that they need treatment.
As is often the case with regard to sleep apnea, it is imperative to manage the condition constantly. Using a CPAP machine
at night will not only help you get a good night’s sleep, but it can also reduce your risk of acquiring other diseases, and can mitigate the symptoms of other conditions, particularly diabetes. So do yourself a favor, and give yourself the CPAP therapy you need to get through the day.