“I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”
It’s a phrase I repeated to myself a lot in my teens and 20s… mostly unaware of the fact that my martyr complex around sleep was quietly sabotaging my best efforts at blood sugar control.
The last year of pandemic has given us all some extra time we never planned for, and recently I dusted off a book I’d been planning on reading for a while – Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, by Matthew Walker.
This book changed my perspective around sleep. I went from thinking of sleep as another item on a long list of health-promoting activities I should work on… to pretty certain that sleep is the ground floor, both for insulin sensitivity – and also every other aspect of good health.
Insulin Resistance, and so much more
First, inadequate sleep (which, by the way, is anything under eight hours per night!) has been shown to disrupt the blood sugar patterns of non-diabetes so significantly, that they would be classified as pre-diabetic.
Why? Well among many reasons, insulin resistance.
Walker cites a study where participants were restricted to four to five hours of sleep per night for a week, and then shown to be far less responsive to insulin.
“In this sleep deprived state, the cells were stubbornly resisting the message from insulin and refusing to open up their surface channels. The cells were repelling rather than absorbing the dangerously high levels of glucose.”
While every major body system, tissue, and organ of your body is impacted by inadequate sleep, a few really stood out to me as a T1D.
- Lack of sleep contributes to weight gain, increased hunger, and reduced feelings of fullness. Talk about a dangerous combination, especially when paired with diminished insulin sensitivity
- Sleep deprivation can impact the brain, triggering “emotional irrationality,” anger, and hostility, and make learning and memory recall more difficult
- Lack of sleep is considered a contributing factor in the development of Alzheimer’s disease (called ‘Type 3 Diabetes’ for a reason)
- The cardiovascular system suffers with reduced sleep, with those sleeping under six hours a night more likely to suffer a stroke or heart attack in their lifetime
Sleep seems to be one one of those free fundamentals to good health, but the follow through is where it gets tricky. Speaking for myself, I want to be constantly in motion, and sometimes, sleep feels like the opposite.
What I’m Doing About It
Right now, I’m working on boosting my sleep habits in ways that feel attainable and achievable, steps I can implement with ease, and maybe even enjoy.
- Embrace perfect darkness. I’ve always been light sensitive when I sleep, and apartment and city living makes this worse. This year I found a blackout eye mask that helps block out all light and doesn’t put any pressure on my eyes as I sleep
- We all know technology before bed is a bad idea – but let’s be real, life in pandemic-lockdown has made me even more dependent on my phone. I compromised this year and started wearing blue light blocking glasses before bed
- Listen to my body. If I’m in bed and can’t sleep, I don’t try to force it. Walker warns that “the anxiety of not being able to sleep can make it harder to fall asleep.” Instead, I allow myself to do something soothing in a judgement-free zone – read a book, listen to the Psalms on audiobook, or drink a cup of herbal tea
Are you interested in making a plan for better sleep and better health? If so, the first step is easy – just drop me a note and let’s chat!