Sleep Apnea and Diabetes: A Link We Can’t Ignore


As the year winds down, November is often when our lives ramp up. Millions of Americans will make travel plans, tick items from shopping lists, and plan for homecomings and reunions during the holiday season. A huge segment of our busy population will have one more thing to manage during the season of multitasking: Type 2 diabetes.

In fact, November is American Diabetes Month, which aims to bring awareness to the condition. 30 million Americans will live with some type of diabetes, a metabolic disease that interferes with vital insulin levels. As of 2010, diabetes was the 7th leading cause of death in the US, more than AIDS and breast cancer combined. What’s more, people managing the most common type of diabetes — Type 2 diabetes — will also be at risk for or already have Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), sometimes without even knowing it.

Consider this: A conservative estimate puts the prevalence of OSA at an overall occurrence of about 4-10% of the population. But when you only take the portion of the population with Type 2 diabetes into consideration, that number doesn’t double or triple. It skyrockets — to 71%.

The shared risks of Sleep Apnea and Diabetes

OSA is a serious sleep disorder. When tissue from the soft palate relaxes during sleep, it can obstruct the airway and disrupt airflow, sometimes hundreds of times a night. Left untreated, people with OSA can experience dangerous fatigue, an increased risk of stroke, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease, and a dip in mental and emotional well-being.

Any of this sound familiar? It should: these are some of the risks also associated with untreated or unmanaged diabetes. And as with diabetes, some people brush off the symptoms of OSA, misunderstanding the seriousness of the symptoms.

With the prevalence of OSA in people with diabetes so high, it’s important to take a closer look at the link between the two. Because in addition to the high prevalence of OSA among diabetics, there’s also evidence that suggests the reverse is true.

Let’s look at the overall population again: over 9% of Americans have diabetes. Now let’s take just the population of people with OSA into consideration. Again, that number makes a big jump — all the way up to 29%, according to a 2014 study.

Which came first, Diabetes or Sleep Apnea?

Oh, if only it were that simple. We know that OSA is a potential complication of Type 2 diabetes, and we know that diabetes is more likely to develop if you have OSA. But untangling which causes which or what comes first is much harder to do.

It could be that OSA and diabetes share a number of risk factors, like obesity and heart disease. It could be that there’s evidence that shows a link between drops in blood oxygenation and negative changes in glucose levels during sleep — which can in turn interfere with insulin resistance.

There’s also the potential role that cortisol plays: it spikes when our sleep is disrupted and can throw a wrench into the body’s natural ability to regulate glucose; throws metabolism out of whack; and can even pave the way to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is of course at the core of diabetes, while sleep disruption is the hallmark of OSA.

But the truest answer to whether diabetes precedes sleep apnea or sleep apnea precedes diabetes is: neither and both.

There’s evidence enough to suggest that the presence of one can at the very least exacerbate the other. The main takeaway is that to be at risk for one is to be at risk for both.

Why a conversation with your doctor might be in order

If you have diabetes, you should absolutely talk to your doctor about assessing your risk for sleep apnea, and the opposite is also true: if you have sleep apnea you owe it to yourself to ask about the potential for developing diabetes.

A sleep study with a board-certified sleep physician can help determine whether or not you already have OSA, and many sleep specialists can help you arrange for a sleep test that you can take in the comfort of your own bedroom.

Knowing whether or not you have OSA can equip you with the tools you need to examine and mitigate your risk for Type 2 diabetes, and a diagnosis of OSA in people who have already developed the disease represents a path forward through treatment.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure — or CPAP — therapy, for instance, can not only help you reclaim your sleep health if you’re living with Diabetes Type 2. Studies have also shown that it can help regulate insulin sensitivity in diabetics with severe sleep apnea.

But the bottom line is this: knowledge is one of the most useful tools you can have for managing either (or both!) conditions. Now that you know about the link between sleep apnea and diabetes, and what that might mean for your health, it’s important to put that knowledge to use.

Do you manage sleep apnea and diabetes? Let us know in the comments below!

Introducing The Ultimate Pillow: Doctor Created for the Ultimate Night’s Sleep

We are very proud of what we offer here at The Snoring & Fatigue Center: we empower our patients to take control of sleep disorders like Obstructive Sleep Apnea without having to jump through an endless series of hoops. Sleep health is for everyone, after all!

And now we’ve got one more thing to be pretty proud of. It’s called The Ultimate Pillow, and it’s the design and creation of Snoring & Fatigue’s own Dr. Raj Kakar, M.D., M.P.H.

A uniquely shaped pillow made of quality, ventilated memory foam, The Ultimate Pillow can make it a whole lot easier to sleep at night, especially if you use a CPAP machine and mask to treat your OSA. If you do, we probably don’t need to tell you how annoying mask leaks are.

Mask leaks are a nuisance: they can be loud and disruptive for you and your bed partner. More importantly, significant enough leaks make it hard for your CPAP to work properly by impairing the sensors on your machine.

It’s frustrating to go through the process of finding the proper mask fit only to have a pillow displace your mask, especially if you’re a side sleeper. Treating OSA with CPAP while you sleep is hugely effective, but if you can’t sleep at all because you’re wrestling with a slipped mask or hose, that’s a problem.

The solution is The Ultimate Pillow, uniquely shaped to help you sleep comfortably with a CPAP mask. Except it’s also much more than a great CPAP pillow.

Anyone can use it; side sleepers will get the support they need from the high, firm sides of The Ultimate Pillow, while back sleepers will love sleeping on a pillow that facilitates neck and back alignment. It’s the same pillow our patients use in our Dallas, Plano, McKinney, and Flower Mound sleep study  locations, and now it’s available to anyone.

And because we believe that caring for your sleep health shouldn’t be cost prohibitive, we’re offering Dr. Kakar’s revolutionary pillow at a special price all November long at the Blue Mountain Sleep Shop. But only for as long as our limited inventory lasts, so you’ll want to buy yours before they run out!

Whether you’re looking for a pillow designed for CPAP users like you, looking for a CPAP pillow for someone you love, or just looking for a great pillow you’ll love, you want The Ultimate Pillow.