Research Study: How Does Diabetes Affect Sleep?

Hi again and happy New Year!

It’s 2015…already. This year brings a lot of different things, like turning 30 and rethinking my life plan.

However, this is not what this blog post is about. I’m actually glad I’m getting something out in January, to tell you the truth. I’ve been busy– working, curating art, eating cleanly, working out, managing diabetes– you know the drill.

No, this blog post is about something that I went through in November of last year, the same week as World Diabetes Day. A friend told me about a research study that was happening at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The study was to observe people with Type 1 diabetes and the relationship of diabetes to sleep and cardiovascular disease.

How intense! But being the person with diabetes that I am, and a health enthusiast, you know I wanted to know more. That’s when I called Sarah. She’s a nursing student studying to get her PhD. This was part of her dissertation.

The way I understood this, when she told me, was that cardiovascular disease and diabetes are linked. If you have diabetes, either type, you have a higher risk for heart disease. This is something we know, because they tell us– over and over again. On the flip side, if you don’t sleep well you are also at risk for heart disease and diabetes. among other things.

Got that? OK.

Now, if you’re like me, you’ve had hypoglycemic episodes in the middle of the night causing you to get up, cursing the extra exercise you did or the fact that you didn’t eat enough. We’ve all been there. I’ve also had to get up repeatedly in the middle of the night to pee because of hyperglycemia. Again, disturbed sleep patterns.

Could this be an added reason as to why we are more at risk for heart disease? Because, face it, sometimes sleep is ridiculously uncontrollable like a bad day in Diabetes-land.

The aggregation of information from my body lasted three days. I went in to UIC, met Sarah, who was really cool, and chatted with her about diabetes and her studies while I filled out forms about my sleeping behavior. I think I’m a pretty good sleeper, you know?

She put me on a CGM (continuous glucose monitor) to track my blood sugars for a couple of days and then I had to spend the night at the sleep center while they monitored everything from my blood sugar to my urine to, of course, my sleep.

IMAG0666Surprisingly, my room looked like a little hotel, with an individual bathroom and a television. But of course, next to the bed sat the sleep monitors that tracked everything my brain was doing while I snored away.

The stay wasn’t bad. While I was being hooked up for monitoring, I talked to Sarah and the other sleep nurse (who was also named Sarah) about travels, books and experiences with hair during sleep studies. The glue they use to stick to your scalp is extra sticky, so there was a way the nurse lined it up making it easier to remove in the shower.

The multicolored wires were strapped and stuck to different parts of my body that included my legs, neck and head, along with a breathing monitor up my nose.

Additionally, there was another larger remote control looking thing that laid by my side instead of a teddy bear. It kept me company; I can’t complain.

IMAG0667Sarah left me while I laid in the dark, couldn’t see anything since I had taken my glasses off and (not lying) kind of wanted to sleep so that I could wake up and get it over with. I went through exercises with the nurse over the intercom and the only thing I could think about was, ‘What happens if I have to pee?’ They assured me however, that all I would have to do was yelp.

So there I was, laying in the dark, calming myself to go to sleep and I started thinking about this blog post and how what I was doing was important for the future of medicine. Along the process, Sarah took tubes of blood out of me at least three times. One of those tubes would go to research for the future of diabetes– in case they found anything unique or abnormal — but would only be tied to age, race and sex.

If those of us who have diabetes under control participate in these studies, sleep or otherwise, we could help the future of endocrinology. Think about it: we’ve had it for enough time that we’re use to it already. What if these studies lead to a cure in the not-too-far-distant future?

The next morning, I went off to do my daily routine, and said good-bye and thanked Sarah. And yes, there was compensation for the time and sleep over.

I left feeling like I did something for the future of diabetes. Whether or not that’s true, I’ll probably never know. But knowing that I was helping Sarah was satisfying enough. By the way, I commend Sarah for her efforts in learning about diabetes. She went through the steps that we went through to learn and put herself in our positions. She tried checking her blood sugar daily (with expired strips no less), she wore a CGM and she even drew her own blood! When she told me that, I was appalled.

There was no pity from her. If anything, she wanted to learn and help. And after the countless times I’ve heard, “I would never be able to do that,” here’s someone with so much interest and no need that she actually tried it and survived.

How about that?

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