You may already know that sleep apnea is a breathing issue that actually affects over 22 million Americans in some form or another. However, what you may not know is that sleep apnea can be an early sign of diabetes developing within the body.  This ultimately comes down to the concentration of oxygen within the bloodstream. Below, we’ve compiled all the details you need to know regarding type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea how presence of each disease affects the other.

Type 2 Diabetes

Firstly, this is a chronic condition that increases the blood glucose levels to unnatural highs. Over time, the body becomes immune to the effects of insulin or it fails to use the store your body offers and this leads to several consequences. At first, the pancreas will step in to make up for the extra insulin. However, this isn’t a sustainable solution and not enough insulin is produced to maintain natural levels. Unfortunately, the condition is actually largely preventable which means our lifestyles are to blame including obesity and history of the disease in the family.

Sleep Apnea

Also known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), this is a sleep disorder that directly affects the breathing during the night. With snoring and sudden wakefulness as the two main symptoms, OSA can actually lead to several health complications including heart disease and, of course, diabetes. In addition to this, it can impact people who are obese or have a history of the issue in the family, much like diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea can both be triggered by obesity and stress. This man is lying down with a CPAP mask on, and he has sleep apnea.

Obesity and stress are the two most common causes of both type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea.

The Correlation Between Type 2 Diabetes and Sleep Apnea

Scientists have actually known about the correlation between type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea for three and a half decades. Proving a significant percentage of diabetics also suffered from sleep breathing disorders, interest grew and we’ve been learning more about the relationship ever since.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 26 million people suffer from diabetes with up to 95% of these people having the type 2 variety. Of this huge number, 7 in every 10 also have OSA and one study even suggested a total of 72%, which is significant.

Why? Most commonly, the issue starts with sleep apnea. A certain percentage of people don’t manage this condition very well, making it very difficult for our bodies to control the blood sugar levels. As the condition gets worse and we still don’t manage sleep apnea effectively, type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea will both cause more complications as a result.

In addition to this, there’s also a link between the two with excess stress and body fat. When we wake up during the night due to sleep apnea, this causes frustration and stress because we aren’t able to relax before we fall asleep (knowing it will come during the night), leaving us feeling tired the next day. With this interrupted sleep, our bodies are strained beyond comfortable levels and this will further increase blood sugar levels.


As we saw previously, obesity is commonly involved in both these issues. For people who are overweight and develop sleep apnea, any excess fat around the neck will actually obstruct the airways and exacerbate the problem. Overnight, your breathing will be interrupted further and this leads to less sleep and increased stress. In turn, this causes a higher risk for both type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea.

Does it Work in Reverse?

With this in mind, can it work the other way where diabetes causes sleep apnea? Ultimately, people with diabetes tend to have poorer sleep than most anyway and this is because the high glucose levels lead to the kidneys excreting excess sugar during the night. In addition to this, diabetes sufferers can struggle with leptin resistance which depresses the respiratory function and causes a destabilization in breathing patterns.

For this reason, people with either condition will automatically be checked for the other because they’re so closely related. As one occurs, it will lead to the other, with each disease causing a positive feedback loop in the other, and your body will continue on a negative spiral until treated.

Careful Management

All things considered, the best solution to both problems will always be careful management after diagnosis. With OSA, the doctor is likely to recommend a CPAP machine while type 2 diabetes needs to be controlled via blood glucose levels and diet, exercise, and injections (if necessary). Thanks to a recent study at the University of Chicago, we actually know that CPAP machines can reduce blood glucose levels which cuts off this negative spiral and prevents the conditions from worsening.