Connection Between Sleep Apnea and Diabetes

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where a person breathes abnormally during sleep – there could be low breathing, pauses or cessation of breathing. Diabetes on the other hand is a metabolic disorder that results in high blood sugar causing a range of symptoms and possible complications. So how are sleep apnea and diabetes connected?


There is mounting evidence that there is a link between type 2 Diabetes and sleep apnea. Studies have noted that these two conditions tend to coexist in a remarkably large number of individuals. According to some estimates, those who have sleep apnea are 9 times likelier to suffer from diabetes when compared with others without sleep apnea.

This has led researchers to study the cause effect relationship between the two conditions and various studies have found that either condition tends to exacerbate the other.

What studies say

In 2005 a study reported that getting treated for sleep apnea could improve a person’s blood sugar levels. When a person got better quality rest at night because of treatments such as CPAP (continuous positive air pressure) their blood glucose levels improved.

A 2007 study also reported that obstructive sleep apnea increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. This study found a clear link between the two conditions in the follow up evolution. Those with sleep disorder were far more likely to have developed type 2 diabetes. According to Nader Botros, M.D., researcher at Yale University, sleep apnea triggers the body’s flight or fight response, possibly because of lower oxygen levels. This causes certain hormones to be secreted in the body that can lead to pre-diabetic conditions.

Yet another study in 2008 demonstrates the connection between sleep apnea and diabetes. The researchers observed that not only is obstructive sleep apnea a risk factor for sudden death and heart disease, it also has an adverse impact on glucose metabolism. This is possibly due to shorter sleep durations and fragmentation of sleep. In particular the common factor of obesity being a risk factor for both conditions is mentioned here.

So clearly there are complex and multiple ways in which sleep apnea and diabetes are connected. While obesity is a risk factor for both conditions, there are several other ways in which the two are connected. One connecting factor is night time hypoxemia or low oxygen levels in the blood. This is seen to be linked with glycosylated hemoglobin which in turn in linked to diabetes.

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