How to Use Sleep to Manage your Diabetes and Lose Weight


Not getting enough sleep can be detrimental to your health – especially if you have  diabetes. Many assume that while you’re sleeping, your brain isn’t doing all that much. Believe it or not, it’s quite the opposite! Key hormones are regulated while you sleep – insulin, stress hormones, growth hormones, hunger hormones, etc.  This is also the time when your body restores, repairs and strengthens.

Hormones are involved in almost every aspect of our life. Sleep experts have determined that inadequate sleep can change your hormones (and gut bacteria). Ultimately, this impacts your food choices, weight, and blood sugar. Disruption of your circadian rhythm can cause a lot of hormonal dysfunction and wreak havoc on your health causing metabolic diseases like diabetes and obesity.

Diabetes and Sleep

Sleep deprivation is a significant risk factor for type 2 diabetes, but it’s often overlooked by medical professionals. If you don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis, your body will release less insulin after you eat and start producing more stress hormones, that will keep you awake. These stress hormones, like cortisol, actually prevent insulin from doing it’s job as well.  Be sure to talk to your doctor about your risk for sleep apnea.


Sleep expert, Matthew Walker, author of Why We Sleep, states that restricting your sleep to 4-5 hours per night for a week causes cells to actually become more insulin resistant. This is true for people without diabetes as well, and can often lead to prediabetes.

Obesity and Sleep

Insulin isn’t the only hormone impacted by sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, two hormones that help regulate hunger, ghrelin and leptin, are impacted by sleep quality and quantity. Ghrelin increases your appetite while leptin decreases it. When you don’t get enough sleep, ghrelin levels skyrocket and leptin levels drop. In other words, getting inadequate sleep can actually cause you to eat more (possibly 300 calories a day more!).  In short, when you don’t get enough sleep, your body craves high-carb foods and salty snacks.


Sleep deprivation also impacts your motivation for exercise. Think about it – do you feel like going to the gym after 4 hours of sleep? Probably not. And even if you make it to the gym, you’ll be far more sluggish and less productive than if you got 7-8 hours of sleep.



Inadequate sleep causes weight gain by encouraging you to eat more, eat processed, high-carb, high-sodium foods, and decrease your motivation to be active.

5 Tips to Improve Your Sleep

Getting your sleep consistent is a great way to manage your diabetes and help support your body’s ability to regulate its blood sugar. Here are 5 tips from Why We Sleep to help you improve your sleep.

  1. Stick to a sleep routine.  This means waking up and going to bed at the same time every sing me day – including weekends. Consistency is key! This is especially important if you have diabetes because tuning into your body’s natural circadian rhythm will help you balance out your insulin levels.
  2. Avoid stimulants. Stimulants like caffeine and nicotine can take up to 8 hours to wear off completely. So if you’re one of those people who need a 3:00 PM cup of coffee to help you get through the rest of the work day, consider having that cup of coffee at 1:00 PM instead.
  3. Don’t take naps late in the day. Taking naps after 2:00 or 3:00 PM can make it harder to fall asleep when bedtime rolls around. If you need a nap, try to take it as early as possible.
  4. Your bedroom is for sleeping – keep it that way. Having gadgets like your cell phone or a TV in your bedroom can be detrimental to your sleep. Keeping distractions like these completely out of the bedroom is a great way to ensure you fall asleep shortly after your head hits the pillow.
  5. If you can’t fall asleep, don’t lie awake in bed. If you’re anything like me, you likely start getting anxious and worried when you can’t fall asleep quickly. Your bed should be a relaxing place, so take your worries into another room and engage in a relaxing activity. Once you start feeling sleepy, head back to bed. For me, if I pick up a book and start reading on my comfy living room chair, I can head back to bed in 15-20 minutes ready to fall asleep.

BONUS TIP: Stay away from screens before bed.  Find a bedtime routine that is relaxing and calming without the use of computers, phones or TV.  Try a calming tea, read a book, do some yoga poses, or wrap up household chores like dishes or laundry (yoga is way more fun than those last two).

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Even though diabetes is present in your life, there is hope. Hope that harmony between you and diabetes can be attained.

Angela Manderfeld, RD

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