New Study Links Blood Sugar Levels With Sleep Apnea

Researchers have found an association between obstructive sleep apnea and increased blood sugar levels, with severity of the sleep disorder being linked with increased levels.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by brief pauses in breathing during sleep, causing daytime fatigue; it's also been linked with a number of health problems, including heart disease, depression, and weight gain.

The findings, published in the European Respiratory Journal, included 5,294 people without diabetes who were part of the European Sleep Apnoea Cohort. Researchers examined the severity of their sleep apnea, and also measured their blood levels of glycosylated hemoglobin, or HbA1c (an indicator for the average blood sugar level over time). People with diabetes are known to have higher levels of HbA1c than people without diabetes; higher levels are also an indicator of poor blood sugar control and an increased risk for heart disease.

Researchers found an association between HbA1c levels and sleep apnea severity. Specifically, the people in the study with the least severe sleep apnea also had the lowest HbA1c levels, while people with the most severe sleep apnea had the highest HbA1c levels. The findings held true even after taking into account factors including obesity, sex and daytime sleepiness.

The findings add to research suggesting a link between sleep apnea and diabetes. A recent study presented at the ATS 2012 International Conference showed that moderate and severe obstructive sleep apnea predicted Type 2 diabetes, and that sleep apnea was associated with HbA1c levels.