According to a new study published online ahead of print, sleep apnea is indeed strongly associated with diabetes. This study confirms earlier smaller studies that found the association between the sleep disorder and the metabolic disorder.

The Largest Study Ever

The new study looked at nearly 8700 adults in Canada over a median of five years to give strong evidence of the connection between diabetes and sleep apnea.

People qualified for the study if they underwent a diagnostic sleep study between 1994 and 2010 and didn’t have diabetes at that time. Subjects were classified as having no sleep apnea or having mild, moderate, or severe sleep apnea, based on their apnea-hypopnea index (AHI). The study then followed them through May 2011.

During the follow-up, about 12% of patients developed diabetes. Researchers analyzed who developed diabetes and corrected for known risk factors, such as age, sex, BMI, neck circumference, smoking, and income. They found that people with severe sleep apnea were 30% more likely to develop diabetes than people without sleep apnea, while mild or moderate sleep apnea led to a 23% increased risk.

Highlighting Mechanisms of Causation

The study was also able to point to certain aspects of sleep apnea that were more likely to lead to diabetes, such as disturbance of REM sleep, low oxygen saturation, loss of sleep, and interference with the sympathetic nervous system during sleep, indicated by a higher heart rate.

Sympathetic nervous system problems have been linked to diabetes, as has disturbance of REM sleep, which means that this study seems to be right on target.

Limits of the Study

Although this study does have great information and is a powerful confirmation of the link between diabetes and sleep apnea, it does have limits. Perhaps the biggest was the lack of data on some potential confounders such as family history of diabetes and race. Some subjects may also have been misclassified due to administrative errors in the health system data used.

But overall the message is clear: sleep apnea and diabetes are linked, and sleep apnea treatment may have the power to reduce your risk of diabetes.

To learn more about the potential benefits of sleep apnea treatment, please call (303) 691-0267 today for an appointment at the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado in Denver.