A lot has been said about diet, exercise and medication as the cornerstones for diabetes care and management, but much less for sleep. Sleep seems to be the least of priorities, and many think that just replacing sleep with more food is okay – which is wrong.
Good sleep is a must for good physical and mental health, not to mention a good quality of life. “Sleep is not just for resting, “adds Mitch Genato of LifeScience Center of Health and Wellness. “It is also an active state.” Cells and tissues repair itself, muscles grow, and protein is synthesized when you sleep (1). With important functions like these no wonder we don’t feel good when we sleep less.
A ”stealing sleep” lifestyle
Of course, everyone knows that sleep is good but this is easier said than done, given the demands of a busy lifestyle, the frequent use of electronic devices, and the pandemic anxiety. Even I myself am guilty of this, and I used to be proud that I can actually go on just 4 hours of sleep, less than the 8-hour minimum usually advised. I thought of sleep as something that you can skip, and I tend to steal sleep but not really rest while sleeping. Sometimes, I sleep binge, thinking that I can sort of pay off my sleep debt
This is where Mitch advised me that this “poor sleep causes insulin resistance, leading to a "sugar spike”. It’s like a sugar high, like a slice of cake.” Multiple studies have shown too that sleep issues - insufficient, excessive, and irregular sleep all promote glucose intolerance (2).
That was when it hit me – this was something that I have neglected and perhaps, the hidden factor that makes my glucose levels harder to manage.
So to get the restorative shuteye I needed, here are some tips and strategies that Mitch gave me:
Minimize blue light before bedtime – Blue light is not bad by itself but exposure before bedtime is what you have to stop. Follow a no-gadget-use rule 30 minutes to 2 hours before you go to sleep. To complement this, you can also use the night setting in gadgets to reduce the blue light emission.
This was the hardest for me to do as I use my gadgets to relax, and my usual routine (and for most people too since the pandemic) is to watch movies until I get sleepy. It actually does the reverse and makes me sleep less.
- Mitch suggests a return to non-digital and non-electronic relaxation techniques such as journaling (where aside from processing your thoughts, you might also want to record your sleep activity), and deep breathing. For this, he recommends the 4-7-8 deep breathing regimen: inhale for 4 counts, hold your breath 7 counts, and finally exhale in 8 counts. This will ideally bring you from stress to rest.
Ask your optometrist about amber eyeglasses – Amber lenses block blue light and tend to improve the quality of your sleep (6). Studies say that this mimics warm light, “like the sunset, signaling the end of the day,” says Mitch. “It prompts your body to wind down and rest.”
Make your bedroom cool and dark to make it conducive for sleeping.
- Set and keep to a regular time for sleeping and waking and stick to it, even during weekends.
- Melatonin and/or magnesium supplements may give that extra nudge so you can get the sleep that you need. I take melatonin from time to time and find that it works for me; but because what works for one may not be as effective for other diabetics, ask your doctor first if you can take them safely, especially so if you are taking other medicines.
How much sleep do we actually need?
How much is enough? Is it true that 4 hours is just fine?
Truth is, there is no exact number that will guarantee good sleep but there is a certain range that the National Sleep Foundation (3), a US-based foundation advancing sleep health theory, research, and practice, recommends:
- Newborns: From 0-3 months > 14 - 17 hours. Older infants (4-11 months) > 12 -15 hours
- Toddlers: Between the first and second year > 11 - 14 hours of sleep each night.
- Children: 3-5 years > 10 -13 hours, 6-13 years >9-11 hours each night.
- Teenagers: 14-17 years > 8- 10 hours of nightly sleep.
- Adults: 18 -64 > 7- 9 hours of nightly sleep. 65= > 7-8 hours