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Sleep Apnea: A Type 2 Diabetes Risk Factor?

By Annie Hauser, Senior Reporter

Fit and healthy 20-somethings are not the typical face of type 2 diabetes. But the common condition sleep apnea, which stops a person from breathing for brief periods while they sleep, could increase a healthy young man's risk for type 2 diabetes, a small study published in Diabetes Care finds.

Previous research has found a link between sleep apnea and type 2 diabetes, but not in healthy men presenting no other diabetic risk factors.

In the study conducted at McGill University in Canada, 12 men between 18 and 30 with sleep apnea were compared to a control group of 20 men. All of the men in the study were similar in terms of age, body mass index, ethnicity-based diabetes risk, level of exercise and family history of type 2 diabetes. Both groups had normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels. After eating, the men with sleep apnea had a 27 percent lower insulin sensitivity and a higher total insulin secretion than the control subjects -- two symptoms associated with type 2 diabetes risk.

Past research has found a connection between sleep apnea and type 2 diabetes because obesity is a risk factor for both conditions. There also appears to be a connection between sleep apnea and insulin resistance, perhaps because of visceral fat that can contribute to both conditions, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center found.

Know Your Sleep Apnea Risk
An estimated 12 million Americans have sleep apnea, the National Institutes of Health estimates. Most people who have it don't know it because it occurs during sleep. Symptoms include snoring, daytime sleepiness and chronic exhaustion, according the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The only way to be properly diagnosed with sleep apnea is to be studied that records your breathing patterns, eye movements and brain activity while you snooze.

Although sleep apnea typically affects men over 65, the NIH reports that a family history of the condition, airway abnormalities, alcohol use and smoking can increase your risk. Males and certain ethnicities, including African-Americans and Hispanics, are also more likely to develop sleep apnea. African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics, American Indians and Pacific Islanders also have a higher risk of type 2 diabetes than Caucasians.

Often, the same lifestyle changes that ease type 2 diabetes symptoms, including diet and weight loss, can improve mild sleep apnea. Weight loss can help keep the throat open while you sleep, and avoiding alcohol can prevent a overly relaxed tongue, which exacerbates sleep apnea.

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For more on diabetes, click here.