Could a good night’s sleep help control Type 1 diabetes?

Forefront, Fall 2021/Winter 2022
Alarm clock in foreground with sleeping teenager in background.
Stephanie Griggs

Eight hours a night has long been touted as the optimal amount of sleep to feel rested and restored. Now, a Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing researcher is studying if this same credo could help better control Type 1 diabetes in young adults.

“We know that sleep is important for all of us, of course, but we believe that this group of young adults is unique for this study,” said Assistant Professor Stephanie Griggs, PhD, RN, who is leading the research. Sleep, she explained, restores the mind and body, repairs blood vessels and regulates blood sugar—critical for a person with diabetes.

So through a three-year, $728,912 grant from the National Institute of Nursing Research, part of the National Institutes of Health, Griggs and colleagues will equip a group of young adults with the chronic, insulin-production-halting, autoimmune disease with several simple—but important—methods to help get restful sleep.

The 48 participants—all now living on their own for the first time and diagnosed with having Type 1 diabetes for at least six months—will take part in “motivational interviewing” to set personal sleep goals, have their sleep patterns monitored for three months, and follow certain recommendations to improve sleep quality, such as sleeping in a cool, dark atmosphere, limiting “blue-light” devices at night and avoiding caffeine late in the day.

“We often focus on diet and exercise for managing diabetes for people of all ages, which is very important, but sleep is a neglected topic,” said Griggs, who specializes in the role of sleep and the circadian system in chronic childhood conditions. “When I first began to talk to young people with Type 1 diabetes about this, many would say ‘Nobody has ever asked me about sleep,’ and that was eye opening.”

Griggs said young adults with Type 1 diabetes achieve blood-sugar targets at the lowest rate and have unique needs to maintain their health.

“They’re away from parents or the home they grew up in for the first time; some may no longer have health insurance or high out-of-pocket costs; and some may be struggling with just the weight of a lifelong effort to manage their diabetes,” she said. “This is a 24/7 condition that they didn’t ask for, and as one of the participants in my research said: ‘I have my whole life to have diabetes—but I’m only in college once.’ ”

Creating a pathway for critical research

Stephanie Griggs’ project is funded through the National Institute for Nursing Research’s Pathway to Independence program, which provides support for nurse scientists, especially in areas that “promote and improve the health of individuals, families, and communities.”

“This is a highly competitive [National Institutes of Health] award geared toward launching research careers for the most promising early career faculty,” said Ronald L. Hickman Jr., PhD, RN (CWR ’00; NUR ’02, ’06, ’13; GRS ’08, nursing), associate dean for research and the Ruth M. Anderson Professor of Nursing. 

Hickman, who is also a collaborator on the project along with Kingman Strohl, MD, a sleep expert from Case Western Reserve School of Medicine and University Hospitals, said Griggs is believed to be Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing’s first recipient of this grant.

Could a good night’s sleep help control Type 1 diabetes?