Type 1 diabetes doesn’t sleep, and when your child is newly diagnosed, it may feel like you don’t sleep much either.
Between 2 a.m. blood sugar checks and occasional all-nighters to monitor unstable blood sugars, managing your child’s diabetes during the overnight hours — and then still fulfilling all your daytime obligations — can be one of the toughest parts of adjusting to your child’s diagnosis.
Read on for diabetes-specific recommendations from experts and parents for getting enough rest when frequent wake-ups are a fact of life.
Work in Shifts
Consider this the divide-and-conquer method to getting enough sleep: Rotate overnight responsibilities for your child’s care by taking turns with your spouse or co-parent being on the “night shift.” It can help minimize sleep loss for both of you, says Ramiz Fargo, M.D., sleep medicine specialist and director of the Loma Linda University Sleep Disorder Center in California. “If you are the parent who is going to wake up that night, catching some sleep beforehand — after you come home from work, for example — can really help with excessive fatigue,” Fargo notes. Your partner can watch the kids while you nap.
If you’re a solo parent, ask relatives or friends willing to help out to get trained in diabetes management tasks. These caregivers can watch your child in the evenings or in the morning to give you a chance to nap, or could even take on some of these overnight shifts.
Time Your Nap
If your child was up all night nursing a high blood sugar, and you were up all night trying to treat that high, functioning the next day could be rough. If you can’t catch some zzz’s that morning (e.g., because you need to be at work bright and early), Fargo recommends taking a nap at lunchtime if possible (around 1 to 2 p.m.) to start repaying your sleep debt.
“Circadian rhythms (which regulate wakefulness) naturally take a dip in the afternoon, making it easier to fall asleep and for your body to make productive use of this sleep,” Fargo says. Even a short 20- to 30-minute nap can help improve mood and alertness. When you get home, try taking another nap.
When you do get the chance to hit the hay, make sure your bedroom isn’t inadvertently making it difficult for you to fall asleep. “Eliminate all light and sounds that could cause potential disturbances, including moving the TV out of your bedroom. Keep the temperature a little on the cool side… between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit,” says Kent Smith, D.D.S., A.B.D.S.M., president of the American Sleep and Breathing Association. You can snuggle up with extra blankets if needed.
Also, skip the screens before bedtime. When you’re trying to get every minute of shut-eye you can, there’s no room for bad habits like scrolling on your smartphone at bedtime. It might seem relaxing, but in reality, says Smith, “the light in your device can cause sleeping difficulties by convincing your brain that it’s daytime.” Turn off your screens at least an hour before bedtime. Bonus: Screen-free evenings for the entire family will help your child sleep better too!
Fall Back Asleep Faster
“What I’ve learned is that if I can perform the overnight blood sugar check with the least amount of fuss possible, I’m able to quickly fall back asleep. This means that I have the glucose meter and a juice box ready to go by my son’s bedside, and that I checked before going to bed that toys or laundry baskets won’t be in the way to trip me,” says Tracee L. of South Fort Lauderdale, Florida, whose son has type 1 diabetes. Consider installing soft night-lights along the path between your room and your child’s room to avoid jarring overhead lights.
Be Careful With Caffeine
Some coffee is okay, but try not to overdo it. “Coffee can be a quick fix but [is] not a long-term solution,” since caffeine doesn’t actually compensate for lost sleep, says Deborah Malkoff-Cohen, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., C.D.E., a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with City Kids Nutrition in New York City. And having lots of caffeine in your system makes it that much harder to fall asleep when you finally have the chance.
Control What You Can
Are overnight lows becoming frequent — or do they seem to happen out of nowhere? If you’re staying up night after night to treat and monitor out-of-range numbers, it’s time to talk to your diabetes care team about what could be going on.
“For starters, carefully review insulin doses taken in the evening. Different insulin types peak in relation to the time when they’re injected. If peaks are happening in the middle of the night [and making your child’s blood sugar go low], talk to your diabetes educator about how to adjust evening insulin doses to avoid this,” says Texas pediatric endocrinologist Stephen W. Ponder, M.D., F.A.A.P., C.D.E.
Another way to help reduce the risk of overnight lows is to offer your child a bedtime snack that provides a source of long-acting carbohydrates, to allow for a steady source of sugar overnight. “Whole grains and other fiber-rich carbohydrates are usually a good choice,” Ponder notes.
Out-of-range blood sugar numbers can develop for so many reasons. Still, by doing everything you can before bedtime to help prevent lows, you are increasing the chances for steady overnight numbers for your child — which means more sleep for you.
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.