How Does Sleep Affect Blood Sugar?

Nidhi Paresh Parekh
Nidhi Paresh Parekh
May 24, 2021

Research suggests that sleep and blood sugar are intricately connected. More specifically, the quality and quantity of your sleep can affect your blood sugar levels. Similarly, poor blood sugar control can also lead to trouble with sleeping. 

Many people with type 2 diabetes experience poor sleep quality. Interventions aimed at improving sleep may therefore help diabetics better manage blood sugar levels. In this article, we hope to provide a better understanding of the relationship between sleep and blood sugar, and also offer tips for improving metabolic health through improved sleep. 

How does sleep deprivation affect your metabolic health?

Your metabolic health is an under-appreciated measure of overall health. Various tests can be undertaken to understand our metabolic health -- including tests to measure blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and changes to an individual’s weight. Any inconsistencies in these tests are used as a marker for various chronic conditions. Chronically irregulated blood sugars, for example, are a marker of diabetes.

When we are sleeping, our bodies experience a vital cycle of changes as part of an internal “body clock”. This body clock, known as a circadian rhythm, governs many domains of physiology, including rest, activity, feeding, fasting, and the secretion of a number of hormones. Due to the central role of circadian rhythms, sleep disorders directly affect the circadian rhythm, and thereby disrupt various physiological processes within the body.

Sleep disorders, and associated disruptions to the circadian rhythm, have a profound impact on various hormonal and metabolic processes and may have implications in obesity, type 2 diabetes, disrupted energy balance, inflammation, and more. In addition to this, sleep deprivation may also have cardiovascular implications and implications for mental health conditions such as depression. 

Getting proper sleep is a critical component of preventing chronic conditions including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression. Due to its association with various chronic conditions, clinicians are evaluating sleep duration and sleep quality for the prevention of these diseases.

What is proper sleep?

We have already established that sleep can have profound effects on metabolic health. So proper sleep could, in effect, reduce the risk of chronic metabolic conditions. But what is proper sleep? How much sleep should each one of us get to remain healthy/reduce risks of chronic illnesses?

Unfortunately, the answer is: it depends. The National Sleep Foundation suggests that the average adult should aim to get 7 to 9 hours of undisturbed sleep. This recommendation is reduced to 7 to 8 hours for adults over the age of 65 years. This guidance is a helpful starting point to understanding sleep hygiene. However, keep in mind that healthy sleep depends on various other factors such as daily schedules, your genes, activity levels, and more. 

Sleep quality is also important. Good sleep has several characteristics including falling asleep within 30 minutes of getting into bed, sleeping straight through the night (waking up no more than once), sleeping the recommended quantity, and feeling rested and energized upon waking up in the morning.

A 2008 paper published in Sleep Medicine Clinics suggested that poor quality sleep may increase appetite, lead to unhealthy food choices, reduces energy expenditure, potentially reduces physical activity, and also alter glucose metabolism. 

Sleep and Diabetes: What’s the Link?

Every night, our blood sugar levels surge in our sleep. This is part of the normal circadian rhythm and is called the dawn effect. This rise in the levels of blood sugar leads to insulin being released from the pancreas. The insulin tells muscle, fat, and liver cells to absorb the glucose from the blood, and thereby keep blood sugar levels under control. 

When sleep is disrupted, so is the circadian rhythm, which unsurprisingly, also affects insulin activity and blood sugar levels. The exact mechanism by which sleep and diabetes are related are currently unknown. An epidemiological study on more than 4,000 people suggests that individuals who get less than 6 hours of sleep on average were twice as likely to have cells that are insulin resistant. 

Other studies in people with sleep apnea also suggested a link between poor sleep and insulin resistance, and more specifically, diabetes. This “resistance” keeps the body from absorbing insulin into the cells, leading to elevated blood sugar levels, like those seen in diabetics. 

How Does Sleep Affect Blood Sugar?

The mechanisms by which the lack of sleep raises an individual’s risk of diabetes are still currently unknown. A proposed mechanism by which sleep affects blood sugars is that insufficient sleep triggers dysregulation of metabolism and immune system responses, which results in appetite dysregulation and cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.

Researchers have begun to uncover some ways in which sleep affects blood sugar. For instance, a study published in Lancet suggests that chronic problems with sleeping may impact carbohydrate metabolism and endocrine function, thereby increasing age-related chronic conditions, such as diabetes. Research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that decreased sleep duration or bad quality sleep is linked to an increased risk for the development of type 2 diabetes. The study suggested that poor sleep duration and quality were significant predictors of HbA1c, a key marker of glucose control. 

Another study published in Psychoneuroendocrinology studies the association between poor sleep and glucose control in prediabetes. The study suggested that prediabetes is positively associated with poor sleep. Yet another study demonstrated how short-term changes in sleep duration can also directly impact blood sugar levels. For example, total sleep deprivation lasting 24 hours to five days led to a decrease in insulin sensitivity and impaired glucose levels. 

In addition to the above-mentioned mechanisms, the hormone cortisol has also been implicated in the relationship between sleep and diabetes. This hormone is released in situations of stress and leads to the release of glucose from the body into the blood. Reduced sleep quality or quantity dysregulates this system and thereby leads to poor glucose control. 

To conclude, insufficient sleep has been linked to the development and management of several chronic conditions including diabetes, however, more research is required to better understand the exact relationship between the two. 

Improving Metabolic Health Through Sleep

Bettering sleep hygiene may improve metabolic health and may also help in the prevention of chronic conditions such as diabetes. As we have seen above, improving your sleep may help with better managing blood sugar levels. There are various ways in which you can ensure that you are getting a better night’s sleep. For example, make sure your room is dark, free from noise, and quiet. Your room should also be of an ideal temperature -- perhaps crack open a window for some ventilation. It also helps to not use your phone for at least an hour before you go to bed. 

Another thing that helps with better sleep is having a regular bedtime routine and sleep schedule. Our body loves maintaining a schedule -- so much that it has its own body clock -- sticking to a sleep schedule may therefore improve the quality of your sleep. 

Monitoring your blood glucose levels may also help with understanding your sleep troubles -- and provide you with more information about your metabolic health. Leveraging this information, you can take a holistic view to your own health, and work to prevent chronic conditions (such as diabetes) from manifesting. If you are still having trouble sleeping, perhaps speak to your doctor and consider a sleep clinic.


Research suggests that sleep and blood sugar are intricately connected. More specifically, the quality and quantity of your sleep can affect your blood sugar levels. Similarly, poor blood sugar control can also lead to trouble with sleeping. 

Many people with type 2 diabetes experience poor sleep quality. Interventions aimed at improving sleep may therefore help diabetics better manage blood sugar levels. In this article, we hope to provide a better understanding of the relationship between sleep and blood sugar, and also offer tips for improving metabolic health through improved sleep. 

How does sleep deprivation affect your metabolic health?

Your metabolic health is an under-appreciated measure of overall health. Various tests can be undertaken to understand our metabolic health -- including tests to measure blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and changes to an individual’s weight. Any inconsistencies in these tests are used as a marker for various chronic conditions. Chronically irregulated blood sugars, for example, are a marker of diabetes.

When we are sleeping, our bodies experience a vital cycle of changes as part of an internal “body clock”. This body clock, known as a circadian rhythm, governs many domains of physiology, including rest, activity, feeding, fasting, and the secretion of a number of hormones. Due to the central role of circadian rhythms, sleep disorders directly affect the circadian rhythm, and thereby disrupt various physiological processes within the body.

Sleep disorders, and associated disruptions to the circadian rhythm, have a profound impact on various hormonal and metabolic processes and may have implications in obesity, type 2 diabetes, disrupted energy balance, inflammation, and more. In addition to this, sleep deprivation may also have cardiovascular implications and implications for mental health conditions such as depression. 

Getting proper sleep is a critical component of preventing chronic conditions including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression. Due to its association with various chronic conditions, clinicians are evaluating sleep duration and sleep quality for the prevention of these diseases.

What is proper sleep?

We have already established that sleep can have profound effects on metabolic health. So proper sleep could, in effect, reduce the risk of chronic metabolic conditions. But what is proper sleep? How much sleep should each one of us get to remain healthy/reduce risks of chronic illnesses?

Unfortunately, the answer is: it depends. The National Sleep Foundation suggests that the average adult should aim to get 7 to 9 hours of undisturbed sleep. This recommendation is reduced to 7 to 8 hours for adults over the age of 65 years. This guidance is a helpful starting point to understanding sleep hygiene. However, keep in mind that healthy sleep depends on various other factors such as daily schedules, your genes, activity levels, and more. 

Sleep quality is also important. Good sleep has several characteristics including falling asleep within 30 minutes of getting into bed, sleeping straight through the night (waking up no more than once), sleeping the recommended quantity, and feeling rested and energized upon waking up in the morning.

A 2008 paper published in Sleep Medicine Clinics suggested that poor quality sleep may increase appetite, lead to unhealthy food choices, reduces energy expenditure, potentially reduces physical activity, and also alter glucose metabolism. 

Sleep and Diabetes: What’s the Link?

Every night, our blood sugar levels surge in our sleep. This is part of the normal circadian rhythm and is called the dawn effect. This rise in the levels of blood sugar leads to insulin being released from the pancreas. The insulin tells muscle, fat, and liver cells to absorb the glucose from the blood, and thereby keep blood sugar levels under control. 

When sleep is disrupted, so is the circadian rhythm, which unsurprisingly, also affects insulin activity and blood sugar levels. The exact mechanism by which sleep and diabetes are related are currently unknown. An epidemiological study on more than 4,000 people suggests that individuals who get less than 6 hours of sleep on average were twice as likely to have cells that are insulin resistant. 

Other studies in people with sleep apnea also suggested a link between poor sleep and insulin resistance, and more specifically, diabetes. This “resistance” keeps the body from absorbing insulin into the cells, leading to elevated blood sugar levels, like those seen in diabetics. 

How Does Sleep Affect Blood Sugar?

The mechanisms by which the lack of sleep raises an individual’s risk of diabetes are still currently unknown. A proposed mechanism by which sleep affects blood sugars is that insufficient sleep triggers dysregulation of metabolism and immune system responses, which results in appetite dysregulation and cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.

Researchers have begun to uncover some ways in which sleep affects blood sugar. For instance, a study published in Lancet suggests that chronic problems with sleeping may impact carbohydrate metabolism and endocrine function, thereby increasing age-related chronic conditions, such as diabetes. Research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that decreased sleep duration or bad quality sleep is linked to an increased risk for the development of type 2 diabetes. The study suggested that poor sleep duration and quality were significant predictors of HbA1c, a key marker of glucose control. 

Another study published in Psychoneuroendocrinology studies the association between poor sleep and glucose control in prediabetes. The study suggested that prediabetes is positively associated with poor sleep. Yet another study demonstrated how short-term changes in sleep duration can also directly impact blood sugar levels. For example, total sleep deprivation lasting 24 hours to five days led to a decrease in insulin sensitivity and impaired glucose levels. 

In addition to the above-mentioned mechanisms, the hormone cortisol has also been implicated in the relationship between sleep and diabetes. This hormone is released in situations of stress and leads to the release of glucose from the body into the blood. Reduced sleep quality or quantity dysregulates this system and thereby leads to poor glucose control. 

To conclude, insufficient sleep has been linked to the development and management of several chronic conditions including diabetes, however, more research is required to better understand the exact relationship between the two. 

Improving Metabolic Health Through Sleep

Bettering sleep hygiene may improve metabolic health and may also help in the prevention of chronic conditions such as diabetes. As we have seen above, improving your sleep may help with better managing blood sugar levels. There are various ways in which you can ensure that you are getting a better night’s sleep. For example, make sure your room is dark, free from noise, and quiet. Your room should also be of an ideal temperature -- perhaps crack open a window for some ventilation. It also helps to not use your phone for at least an hour before you go to bed. 

Another thing that helps with better sleep is having a regular bedtime routine and sleep schedule. Our body loves maintaining a schedule -- so much that it has its own body clock -- sticking to a sleep schedule may therefore improve the quality of your sleep. 

Monitoring your blood glucose levels may also help with understanding your sleep troubles -- and provide you with more information about your metabolic health. Leveraging this information, you can take a holistic view to your own health, and work to prevent chronic conditions (such as diabetes) from manifesting. If you are still having trouble sleeping, perhaps speak to your doctor and consider a sleep clinic.