Does Sleep Apnea Treatment Improve Diabetes?

man laying in bed, awake and irriatated
Up to one in four people with type 2 diabetes may also have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition that causes your breathing to pause over and over as you sleep. OSA makes blood-sugar control more difficult and may raise your risk for high blood pressure and heart disease.

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Researchers found that treating sleep apnea with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) not only helped people sleep better, but it also improved their blood sugar (glucose) levels, which can reduce the risk of complications from diabetes, such as heart and kidney disease.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that disrupts healthy sleeping patterns and affects up to 4% of men and 2% of women. The condition causes a person’s breathing to become irregular or briefly stop as the result of a collapsed airway. CPAP is a device with a mask and hose which is hooked to the patient. The device forces air into the patient and keeps the airway open.

Researchers say in light of the high prevalence of sleep apnea and obesity in people with diabetes, these results suggest that the treatment of sleep apnea can have important health benefits. They say people with diabetes who have symptoms of sleep apnea, such as excessive daytime sleepiness and loud, persistent snoring, should be evaluated for sleep apnea and seek treatment for the sleep disorder.

The researchers say CPAP may improve blood sugar levels by lowering insulin resistance. Restless sleep causes an increase in hormones that work against insulin’s action. By improving sleep, CPAP may improve hormone levels.

You may have OSA if your bed partner reports that you snore loudly and seem to gasp for air at night; if you wake up feeling tired, irritable, forgetful, and headachy; or if you’re extremely sleepy during the day. OSA raises the risk for traffic accidents by making you drowsy at the wheel, too.

If this sounds like you, ask  your doctor whether you should be evaluated at a sleep clinic. It’s worth it: In one study of 25 people with diabetes who got treatment for their OSA, researchers found that after-meal blood sugar levels dropped from 191 mg/dl to a healthier 130 mg/dl. The best fix for OSA? A continuous positive air pressure machine that blows a gentle stream of air into your throat to keep airways open.