It’s Not Just the Sweets, Sleep Apnea Can Contribute to Diabetes

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Halloween can be a scary time for many, but even for adults without a family history of diabetes it can seem like sugary tidbits are lurking around every corner, just waiting to tempt you into letting down your guard.

We’re not trying to frighten you (that’s the weird spector ‘decoration’ at the drugstore’s job) but the fact is that there may be a danger that most people aren’t even aware of.

dangerous Halloween treats sweets

While it’s common knowledge that diet and weight are linked to a person’s risk of developing diabetes, did you know that sleep apnea is also linked to diabetes? Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where the upper air tract is closed repeatedly during the night, temporarily reducing oxygen levels and causing disruption to sleep.

Like diabetes, it’s a common disorder among overweight and obese people – but importantly, it’s also been shown to be a contributing factor to an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Pre-diabetes/Sleep Apnea Correlation

First, a refresher on what pre-diabetes is. People who are at risk of developing diabetes due to a higher-than-normal blood sugar level are considered pre-diabetic. According to researchers, pre-diabetes is so common that it affects about 57 million Americans.

The good news is that research has shown that treating sleep apnea may help pre-diabetic people to lower their chances of developing full-blown diabetes. Pre-diabetes that isn’t addressed in its early stages, may develop into type 2 diabetes, which is linked to many serious complications, such as damage to the blood vessels, eyes, kidneys and nerves.

Addressing sleep apnea is a great way of managing pre-diabetes and preventing it from progressing to the next more dangerous stage.

Researchers’ Findings

By treating pre-diabetic people with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device for eight hours a night, researchers have found that the treatment seems to help them improve their blood sugar control and reduce their risk of diabetes.

As such, the study’s senior author, Dr. Esra Tasali, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, recommended that an assessment of sleep apnea should also be considered in patients showing a high likelihood for diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.


Published online in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care, the study involved 39 middle-aged participants who were pre-diabetic and had sleep apnea. They were also overweight and obese.

Divided into two groups, the goal of the study was to see if treating sleep apnea with a CPAP had any effect on their blood sugar levels. The participants were then divided into two groups, with the first group of 26 people randomly assigned to undergo two weeks of CPAP treatment for eight hours a night.

How exactly does the CPAP work? People with sleep apnea constantly have disrupted sleep as their airways are blocked repeatedly as they sleep. The CPAP combats this by producing a constant stream of air through a tube and face mask, directly into the person’s airway while they sleep.

This stream of air causes an air pressure that helps people with sleep apnea breathe better and easier, by keeping their airway open and unobstructed.

Meanwhile, the remaining 13 participants were given a placebo pill which was inactive. It was taken before they went to bed for two weeks. The study was conducted in a laboratory, where the subjects were monitored and recorded while they slept.

To gauge if the CPAP treatment had any effect, the participants took glucose tolerance tests to assess their blood sugar levels.

Study Results

By the end of the study, the results showed that participants who received the CPAP treatment had improved blood sugar levels and sensitivity to insulin, when compared to the placebo group.

Those who did not receive the CPAP treatment showed higher levels of stress hormones and higher blood pressure on average than those who did receive the treatment.

The study’s lead author, Dr Sushmita Pamidi, stated definitively that using the CPAP in patients with pre-diabetes lowers their risk of advancing to full-blown diabetes when the machine is used for eight hours, which is a full night’s sleep.

Dr Pamidi was a former fellow at the University of Chicago and now on the faculty at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. The doctor also noted that while eight hours of CPAP treatment each night can be challenging to achieve in real life, the results are encouraging to those with sleep apnea, especially those who are also pre-diabetic.

Patients who are pre-diabetic would find it an added incentive to follow their treatment closely for cardio-metabolic risk reduction.

With the link between sleep apnea and diabetes so clearly established, it would be truly scary to not address any sleep apnea issue.

Getting a full night’s sleep, and keeping the CPAP on for those eight hours a night might prove to be a real life-saver for pre-diabetic patients along with managing diet and exercise. While you still may want to skip those mummy cupcakes at the bake sale, they don’t have to be so terrifying.