Sleep is critical to good health, but for many of us it’s hard to come by. In the modern world there are so many challenges to a healthy sleep—everything from stress to diabetes—that can cause insomnia. In fact, diabetes is the world’s fastest growing chronic health condition and people with diabetes not only lose their lives prematurely, but they often suffer with insomnia.
So, if you suffer from both diabetes and insomnia, what effect would this have on your life expectancy? In the first study of its kind, scientists decided to find out.
It’s not news that insufficient duration or poor quality of sleep is linked to an early death.
For instance, a study from Norway involving 6,236 participants aged 40 to 45 found that after a 13 to 15 year follow up, insomnia tripled the risk of death.
Another larger study of 23,447 male health professionals in the U.S. found that after six years, those that had difficulty falling asleep had a 55 percent increased risk of death, while those who said they didn’t feel rested when they woke in the morning had a 32 percent increased risk.
Other studies have come to similar conclusions, but then again some have not, possibly because of wide differences in the way the studies were conducted.
While there may still be a question mark regarding sleep and mortality, the same cannot be said for diabetes.
Diabetes Increases Risk of Death From any Cause
Type-2 diabetes (T2D) increases the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) by a factor of two to four. And CHD itself is linked to an increased mortality risk by a factor of three to seven.
Diabetes increases the risk of death not only from CHD, but from any cause. As a recent review stated, “Accumulating evidence documents T2D as an independent risk factor for all-cause mortality. The risk of all-cause mortality in persons with T2D is approximately doubled.”
This is because type-2 diabetes increases the risk of other health problems such as Alzheimer’s, stroke, and cancer.
For the new study from Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, and the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom, researchers analyzed data on 487,728 people over 8.9 years. They took the data from the UK Biobank, a large-scale health resource containing in-depth genetic and health information.
Participants were asked the question, “Do you have trouble falling asleep at night or do you wake up in the middle of the night?”
Sleep disturbances were categorized into never/rarely, sometimes, or usually (frequent), and combined with the presence or absence of diabetes.
An 87 Percent Increased Risk of Death
After taking into account participants’ age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic factors, smoking, sleep duration, body mass index and health conditions, the researchers found that frequent sleep disturbances alone increased the risk of death by 11 percent. For diabetes alone the risk of death increased by 67 percent.
But for those with frequent sleep disturbance (experienced by 28 percent of the sample) and diabetes together, the risk climbed to an incredible 87 percent.
Better Sleep Means Better Blood Sugar Control
Some studies of people with type-2 diabetes demonstrate poor control of blood sugar for those who experience poor quality of sleep. What’s more, insomnia itself has been identified as a risk factor for type-2 diabetes.
Taking these medical findings into consideration the authors wrote, “If chronic poor sleep quality due to a sleep disorder can impair glucose control in people with diabetes, then this could be a mechanism leading to the increased risk of mortality in people with diabetes and frequent sleep disturbances.”
They believe their findings have important health implications because poor sleep is very common and should therefore be addressed by clinicians.
Poor Sleep Can Lead to Poor Health
Study author Malcolm von Schantz commented, “Although we already knew that there is a strong link between poor sleep and poor health, this illustrates the problem starkly.
“Doctors should take sleep problems as seriously as other risk factors and work with their patients on reducing and mitigating their overall risk.”
In other words, if you have insomnia you need to pay special attention to your sleep habits while working with your doctor or healthcare team to restore better quality sleep. And if you have diabetes, in addition to working on maintaining healthy blood sugar, you should pay careful attention to your sleep quality and attempt to quell any sleep disturbances you might experience. It seems your life might depend on it.