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How can sleep apnea increase the risk of diabetes?

Published on September 29, 2022

3 minutes

Can Sleep Apnea Increase Risk of Diabetes?

Are you feeling tired during the day? Keeping your bed partner up at night with your loud snoring? You may be at risk for Sleep Apnea - a potentially serious sleeping disorder in which the muscles in the back of your throat relax, causing the airway to collapse and close, and this briefly blocks your breathing. When this happens, your oxygen levels drop, causing your brain to wake you up in order to take a breath. This cycle continues throughout the night, often without you even noticing.

Most people spend an average of 26 years of their life sleeping (based on a 79 year lifespan) so the quality of your sleep is crucial to your health and wellbeing. Sleep is a time for your body to recover and repair so it can meet the challenges of the next day.

What is Diabetes and the Importance of Insulin?

In Canada, 11 million people are living with diabetes - a condition in which your body isn’t able to properly produce or use the insulin hormone created by the pancreas. Insulin’s role is to help regulate the amount of sugar (glucose) in your blood and turn the food you eat into energy. High levels of glucose in your blood can lead to diabetes and more serious health risks including nerve damage, strokes, heart disease and blindness.

Take this 2 minute test to see if you are at risk for Type 2 diabetes.

Why sleep apnea is a risk for diabetes?

When your breathing pauses during sleep, both the carbon dioxide in your blood and oxygen levels change - in the wrong direction - and this increases stress to the body largely due to the lack of oxygen. This increases your blood sugar levels which over time may contribute to insulin resistance and diabetes. Without sleep apnea treatment, this increase can also lead to:

  • Chronic high blood pressure
  • Early morning headaches
  • Increased risk of heart problems or cardiovascular disease

How sleep apnea can worsen diabetes symptoms?

If you have Sleep apnea, it may worsen the following diabetes symptoms: 

  • Hypertension (Elevated Blood Pressure)
  • Hyperlipidemia (High Cholesterol)
  • Neuropathy (Nerve Damage/Dysfunction)
  • Kidney Diseases
  • Fatigue (Irritability, Headaches, Irregular Heartbeat)
  • Diabetic Retinopathy (Damage to the Retina)

These are just a few examples of the many ways sleep apnea and diabetes complications may affect your health.  Type 2 diabetes may lead to the development of sleep apnea as a result of the effect of insulin resistance and abnormal nerve function of the airway muscles. However, patients who have been diagnosed with sleep apnea must take extra caution as this may lead to other potentially dangerous conditions, including diabetes. (the bidirectional nature of sleep apnea and Diabetes management)

Ways you can manage sleep apnea and diabetes

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the most common and most effective treatment for sleep apnea. Proper adherence to this method of therapy can greatly reduce the negative health effects from sleep apnea. Outcomes of sleep apnea treatment may include: 

  • Regulated insulin levels-reduced insulin resistance
  • Increased mood
  • Decrease in blood pressure levels
  • Alertness
  • Resolution of daytime drowsiness
  • Vitality and motivation
  • Weight loss (often weight gain may occur due to increase in muscle mass)

Make sure to consult your doctor if any problems with your sleep or diabetes persist. If you feel like you may be at risk for sleep apnea, you can undergo a sleep study test also called a polysomnogram. Talk to your doctor to learn more or visit us online at for more information.