Sleep Apnea May Boost Diabetes Risk

Sleep apnea may lower insulin sensitivity and increase insulin production

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) If you snore loudly or feel tired even after a full night's sleep, you may have sleep apnea - a serious sleep disorder that can lead to heart problems. Can sleep apnea also lead to diabetes?

Obstructive sleep apnea may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes even in people without heart disease or other heart problems.

"Visit your doctor if you have any sleep problems."

In people with sleep apnea, breathing repeatedly stops and starts throughout the night. Obstructive sleep apnea happens when the throat muscles relax. This breathing problem can lead to a number of other health problems, including high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure and liver problems.

Sushmita Pamidi, MD, of the University of Chicago, and colleagues wanted to see if sleep apnea affected the body's ability to use sugar (glucose) as energy in young men with a healthy weight and without heart disease.

They found that men with obstructive sleep apnea had a 27 percent lower insulin sensitivity than men without sleep apnea.

Insulin sensitivity is a measure of how well the body responds to insulin - a natural hormone that helps manage levels of sugar in the blood. When a person has a lower insulin sensitivity, their blood sugar levels rise, which can lead to diabetes.

The researchers also found that men with sleep apnea produced 37 percent more insulin than those without sleep apnea. Still, both groups had similar blood sugar levels.

This finding suggests that men with sleep apnea maintained normal blood sugar control by increasing the amount of insulin produced.

Both low insulin sensitivity and increased insulin production are linked to type 2 diabetes. As such, the results of this study suggest that obstructive sleep apnea may raise the risk of type 2 diabetes, the authors concluded.

The study included 52 healthy men between 18 and 30 years of age. Because of the small study size, more research is needed to see if sleep apnea increases the risk of diabetes in larger and more diverse populations.

The research was published August 21 in Diabetes Care, a journal of the American Diabetes Association. 

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Review Date: 
August 27, 2012
Last Updated:
August 29, 2012