Sleep Deprivation and Type 2 Diabetes


Getting enough sleep is important, yet underlooked when it comes to managing diabetes. But for those of us living with diabetes, how does not getting enough sleep affect us? Psychiatrist Margarita Reyes Zúñiga of the Sleep Medicine Unit of the National Institute of Respiratory Diseases (INER), explained that sleeping the right amount of hours is as important as eating a balanced diet or doing physical activity.

How much sleep do we need?

“Not sleeping causes the body to keep the alert system activated, so there is an increase of adrenaline secretion which causes the heart rate to increase, sweating, palpitations, headache, anxiety, anguish and irritability in addition to causing weakening in the immune system so it is less strengthened to fight infections”, she said.

Reyes Zúñiga explained that the hours of sleep change according to your age, for example, newborns should sleep 18 hours, preschoolers between 10 and 12 hours, while adolescents eight hours and adults at least seven hours.

Lack of sleep can cause a significant decrease in insulin sensitivity and a decrease in blood glucose tolerance. This is because the function of the beta cells isn’t sufficient to compensate for the decrease in insulin sensitivity during sleep deprivation. This can lead to elevated blood glucose levels. Sleeping outside of your normal hours negatively affects blood glucose metabolism, too. 

Sleep Deprivation and Blood Glucose Levels

A study subjected 39 healthy adults to a 10-day laboratory protocol that required them to eat and sleep during all phases of the circadian cycle, otherwise known as your sleep/wake cycle. During the final part of the experiment, the average blood glucose increased by 6 percent, despite the simultaneous increase in circulating insulin concentrations.

The changes were more noticeable in the postprandial state (after meals) and showed decreases in blood glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity. This protocol generated an increase in fasting and post-meal blood glucose levels and a decrease in insulin sensitivity. This suggests that the alteration of sleep schedules, as well as sleep deprivation, leads to inefficient insulin production by the beta cells. Fortunately, the beta cell functions seemed to be fully restored after 10 more days of reestablishing regular sleep patterns.

In addition, sleep deprivation has a stimulating effect on food consumption. Lack of sleep is linked to an increase in food consumption especially, sweets and other higher glycemic foods. This also leads to higher blood sugar levels and weight gain. Another negative effect of sleep deprivation is the decrease in physical activity during the day.  Sleeping less than six hours per night is associated with a 27 percent decrease in physical activity

How to Prioritize Sleep in Your Life

Sleep is important to your health. We’re all about keeping in range with our blood sugar goals, but those numbers also need to include the amount of sleep we get each night. Being well-rested helps us make better choices about food and helps us remain active throughout our days. Prioritize sleep in your life using these tips: 

  • Avoid watching or listening to news or television programs that may cause stress.
  • Listen to some relaxing music or white noise. 
  • Go to sleep at the same time every day, preferably ensuring compliance with the recommended hours of sleep.
  • Avoid taking napping close to bedtime.
  • Avoid caffeinated drinks before going to sleep.
  • Practice meditation, yoga, deep breathing, reading a book you like or writing in a diary to relieve stress.
  • Turn off cell phones and electronic devices before bedtime.



WRITTEN BY Eugenia Araiza, CDE Nutritionist, POSTED 12/21/19, UPDATED 12/12/22

Eugenia has a degree in diabetes nutrition and she is a Diabetes Educator. She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes 23 years ago, she is the creator of Healthy Diabetes. She enjoys studying and helping others manage their different types of diabetes. She loves the studies and management of type 1 diabetes and nutrition. She enjoys writing especially about the impact of diabetes on her life. She lives surrounded by love with a family integrated by Luis Felipe, who lives with latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA) type diabetes and their teenage son, Indigo.