DEAR DOCTOR K: I was recently diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Then, shortly afterward, I was diagnosed with sleep apnea. Could the two be related?
DEAR READER: One way they could be related is if you are overweight.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. It usually develops during adulthood among people who are overweight. Being overweight causes your cells to resist the effects of insulin, a hormone that drives sugar (glucose) from the blood into cells.
When that happens, sugar builds up in your blood. If this happens consistently, you can develop Type 2 diabetes.
Obstructive sleep apnea is common. It occurs because the upper airway – particularly the back of the throat and tongue – relaxes too much during sleep. This causes repeated interruptions to breathing.
The symptoms of this condition include snoring and snorting during sleep. If you have obstructive sleep apnea, someone watching you sleep (like your spouse) may notice periods of 15-40 seconds when you don’t seem to be breathing. If this happens more than 30 times an hour, the condition is considered severe. During the day, you may have sleepiness and difficulty concentrating. The condition is more common in men than women, and more common in adults as they get older.
Even though we know that being overweight increases your risk of both sleep apnea and Type 2 diabetes, we don’t know whether sleep apnea might somehow increase your chances of getting Type 2 diabetes, or vice versa.
There is some evidence from studies in animals and humans that sleep apnea also causes chemical changes that lead to insulin resistance. However, I don’t think the evidence is very strong.
If you have Type 2 diabetes and you’re overweight, you can help control the condition by losing weight. Losing weight can also help with sleep apnea.