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Sleep Apnea and Diabetes: is There a Link?

Despite the many health dangers associated with sleep apnea, one of the most dangerous has to be the link between sleep apnea and diabetes. There is some evidence linking a whole host of sleep disorders with diabetes, however the evidence shows that the correlation is strongest between sleep apnea and diabetes, specifically type 2.

Many studies have shown that those who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea have a much greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes. This is why it is so important to treat this sleeping disorder before it leads to serious health problems, such as depression, hypertension, and many others. 

However, the problem is that of the approximately 18 million Americans who suffer from sleep apnea, less than a quarter of them have been properly diagnosed, and even fewer actually seek proper treatment. 

Due to this fact, many sleep organizations are dedicated to spreading knowledge about sleep apnea and other sleeping disorders in order to educate the public and allow those with this disorder to be properly diagnosed and receive the treatment that they need before their sleep apnea leads to other conditions, of which diabetes is just one.

One of the main reasons that there is such a strong connection between sleep apnea and diabetes is that there are several similar factors that put a person at high risk for both conditions, the most obvious of which is being significantly overweight. 

A large percentage of individuals with sleep apnea are overweight or obese and this can lead to more blockages and obstructions of the nasal and throat air passages, which is the cause of obstructive sleep apnea.
In addition, being overweight also significantly increases your risk for developing type 2 diabetes, which is one of the reasons that the two are so closely linked. 

When a person is overweight, excess fat begins to build up around the chest region, making it more difficult for them to breathe. Excess fat also builds up around the throat, which can cause the esophagus to not be able to expand as it should when breathing and all of this can be a significant factor in obstructive sleep apnea.  


Most studies have found that as many as one quarter of men with diabetes also have obstructive sleep apnea, although women seem to have a much lower risk, as both conditions are only prevalent in around ten percent of women. 


sleep apnea and diabetesHowever, many others studies have shown an even stronger correlation between some form of sleeping disorder and diabetes, with as many as half of diabetes sufferers also suffering from a mild to severe form of sleep disordered breathing, and around a third of these people are thought to have a form of sleep apnea severe enough to necessitate treatment.  

Other studies have shown an even stronger link when looking at the problem the other way around, with up to forty percent of people with obstructive sleep apnea having a form of diabetes.

The reason for all of this goes both ways, as both conditions seem to be able to cause the other. 

Studies have shown that poor quality of sleep due to sleep apnea and the lack of oxygen associated with it can lead to glucose intolerance and poor glucose regulation, which can then lead to type 2 diabetes. 

Still, poor glucose regulation can also result in a person gaining more weight, which can in turn cause the sleep apnea to worsen. This cycle is so strong that it seems that the severity of the sleep apnea can directly result in increased glucose intolerance, especially in obese patients. This means that the more severe a person’s sleep apnea is, the more severe their diabetes is also likely to be.

Treatments for Sleep Apnea and Diabetes

sleep apnea and diabetesIf you are overweight and have been diagnosed with either sleep apnea, type 2 diabetes, or both, then probably the first thing that your doctor will recommend to treat these conditions is to lose weight through proper diet and exercise. 

Even if you only have sleep apnea and haven’t developed diabetes, losing weight is the best way to reduce your sleeping disorder and allow you to breathe properly while sleeping. If you are significantly overweight, then the best way to treat one or both of these conditions is to lose weight. Sorry folks!

Still, if you have been diagnosed as having moderate to severe sleep apnea, weight loss will help, but it may not be enough to treat the sleep apnea on its own. For these people with more severe forms of this sleeping disorder, it is usually necessary for them to sleep with a CPAP machine, which blows a constant stream of air into their nose and mouth, forcing its way past the obstructions into the lungs and allowing the oxygen concentration levels in the blood to remain at or near optimal levels. 

The use of a CPAP machine is considered to be the only truly effective treatment for severe sleep apnea, but it has also been shown to be effective in reducing type 2 diabetes as well, since it is linked with decreased oxygen concentration in the blood.

sleep apnea and diabetesIn fact, even for those who do not have severe sleep apnea, treatment of the sleeping disorder has repeatedly been shown to have a positive effect on diabetes. For people with less severe forms of obstructive sleep apnea, there are many other treatment alternatives to using a CPAP machine every night. 

These options include anti snoring devices such as mouth guards, nose strips, nasal plugs, and chin straps. All of these sleep apnea devices have been shown to be effective in at least reducing the severity of sleep apnea, meaning that they may also be useful in limiting the effect or severity of type 2 diabetes.

Therefore, if you have diabetes, it is recommended that you see a sleep specialist or an ear, nose, and throat doctor to see whether you might be suffering from a sleeping disorder that is contributing to your diabetes. If so, then treating the sleeping disorder may also help to treat your diabetes.

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