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Can sleep apnea cause diabetes?

Published on October 26, 2022

3 minutes

Did you know that every three minutes, a person in Canada is diagnosed with diabetes?

11 million Canadians live with prediabetes or diabetes. Diabetes Canada sets out to educate them and the public on its prevention and management.


7 out of 10 Canadians with Type 2 Diabetes also have sleep apnea

Compelling evidence links obstructive sleep apnea and Type 2 diabetes. In fact, over 70% of people with Type 2 Diabetes may also have obstructive sleep apnea.1 Research suggests that the interruption of sleep caused by sleep apnea may exacerbate the effects of Type 2 diabetes, highlighting the need to both detect and treat sleep apnea in people with Type 2 diabetes.2

Sleep apnea and diabetes

Sleep apnea and diabetes

A recent study examined how full-night CPAP adherence affects glucose levels over a one week period. Participants were split into two groups - one receiving ongoing CPAP treatment and the other receiving placebo CPAP (or sham) treatment for the full duration of the night, each night, under lab supervision.

After one week, the participants’ insulin and glucose levels were tested. Participants with CPAP treatment demonstrated better overall glucose response and improved insulin sensitivity, which have been associated with a reduced risk of developing diabetes, obesity and heart disease over time. Additionally, using CPAP for the full sleep duration showed a reduction in 24-hour blood pressure as compared with placebo.

The connection between sleep apnea and diabetes

Being unable to breathe for seconds or even minutes throughout the night not only leaves you tired the next day, but it also aggravates your Type 2 diabetes. Blood sugar levels increase due to the stress that interrupted sleep puts on your heart and body which, over time, can contribute to insulin resistance. Left undetected and untreated, sleep apnea can worsen your health.

How does sleep affect appetite?

Hormones in your body play an important role in regulating your appetite and satiety. For example, ghrelin is known to stimulate appetite, which may lead to overeating. Leptin is known to suppress hunger, which may lead to feeling full and eating less. 


When you sleep well, your body better controls and releases these hormones and you tend to feel less hungry. Poor sleep can disrupt the ghrelin and leptin levels in your body.

For example, sleep restriction to four hours a night is associated with having an effect of increased hunger and eating. Further supporting the need for a good night’s sleep, a reduction of sleep duration to 4 h for two nights in a row has recently been shown to lead to self-reported hunger. 4

Effect of sleep duration on leptin and ghrelin levels5

Effect of sleep duration on leptin and ghrelin levels

Next steps

It's important to keep treating your sleep apnea in order to get all the health benefits. If you need any assistance or have questions about your sleep apnea therapy, we are here to help you.  

Contact VitalAire