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4 Tips to Manage Diabetes-Related Fatigue

Managing T2D

September 07, 2022

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Delmaine Donson/Getty Images

Delmaine Donson/Getty Images

by Joe Van Brussel


Medically Reviewed by:

Kelly Wood, MD


by Joe Van Brussel


Medically Reviewed by:

Kelly Wood, MD


Fatigue is a tricky symptom that can affect every aspect of our lives — but there’s a lot we can do to address it.

Fatigue is a uniquely challenging symptom of diabetes. It’s hard to define, hard to quantify, and hard to diagnose.

It also makes other things more difficult. When you’re fatigued, other symptoms may feel more challenging and managing diabetes becomes more complicated.

Plus, fatigue is not an easy feeling to resolve. A variety of psychological, physiological, and lifestyle factors can cause it. And when the cause is uncertain or complex, it can be harder to understand how to best manage it.

But we’re not helpless. There’s a lot we do know about fatigue. And once we understand our own fatigue better, we can begin to address it.

Many of the behaviors and interventions that help with fatigue can help with diabetes, too.

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Causes of diabetes-related fatigue

Broadly speaking, there are a couple of different categories of diabetes-related fatigue. These categories don’t always have clear differences and sometimes overlap. But they can help narrow down the possible causes for your particular situation, helping you ultimately manage fatigue better.

Fatigue caused by similar risk factors for diabetes

Some of the risk factors that can lead to diabetes can also lead to fatigue. In particular, causes of both fatigue and diabetes include:

  • having obesity or overweight
  • being less physically active
  • having poor sleep

Obesity has been linked to fatigue and is also a major risk factor in developing type 2 diabetes, according to experts.

Physical activity is one way to address fatigue. For people with diabetes, moderate to vigorous physical activity is recommended to manage it. A lack of physical activity is also associated with a higher risk of diabetes, per 2016 research.

When it comes to sleep, experts say that getting fewer than 7 hours per night can increase glucose intolerance and insulin resistance. This makes diabetes harder to manage.

Plus, sleep issues can increase your risk for type 2 diabetes.

Fatigue caused indirectly by diabetes

The science is unclear when it comes to whether diabetes itself causes fatigue. Yet living with diabetes may increase the possibility of feeling fatigued.

For example, if you’ve recently changed your diet in a big way in order to manage your diabetes, that change may cause fatigue. It’s typical to experience significant changes in energy levels, especially when we significantly alter the number of calories, carbohydrates, or sugars we consume on a daily basis.

Certain medications to help manage diabetes or diabetes-related symptoms can also have side effects that cause fatigue. It’s important to check with your doctor when starting a new medication. They can help you understand potential side effects and monitor them if they become serious.

In addition, complications of diabetes — such as heart disease, kidney disease, or eye problems — can lead to fatigue and other forms of discomfort.

Researchers in 2016 found that pain is directly related to fatigue. So if your diabetes is causing you pain, it could also be causing fatigue.

It’s not always easy to manage diabetes on a daily basis, and the efforts we put into it can be taxing. Sometimes that effort, whether it’s physical or emotional, can lead to exhaustion and fatigue.

Fatigue caused directly by diabetes

The relationship between diabetes and fatigue is far from clear.

According to an editorial article from 2018, some studies have suggested that a lack of insulin may explain the high number of individuals with diabetes experiencing fatigue. Again, though, it’s not entirely clear.

That said, diabetes affects our body’s ability to process sugar. So if our body is having trouble using our primary energy source, it’s not far-fetched to think that our energy levels would be affected as well.

It is clear that diabetes and fatigue feed off each other and can make each other worse. So regardless of whether one causes the other, we do know that they certainly are related.

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Managing diabetes-related fatigue

Whether or not we have a good sense of what’s causing our fatigue, here are some ways you can get manage it.

Good sleep hygiene

A significant portion of people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes experience poor sleep quality, with some studies suggesting that upward of 81% of people with diabetes have trouble sleeping well.

Here are some ways to improve the quality of your sleep:

  • Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night.
  • Aim for high quality sleep, which means you’re not waking up constantly.
  • Aim for a consistent sleep routine, in which you prepare for sleep in the same way and at the same time every night.

It helps to have a sleeping environment that’s dark, cool, quiet, and comfortable.

Remember that alcohol may help you fall asleep, but it ultimately harms the quality of your sleep. Caffeine can disrupt sleep patterns as well. Try to avoid them for a few hours before going to bed.

To help with consistency and quality of sleep, your wind-down routine should aim to reduce anxiety or discomfort as much as possible. Prepare your sleep environment to be free of distractions so you can relax.

Some relaxing activities before bed include:

  • taking a warm or cool shower
  • yoga or meditation
  • light activity like Tai chi
  • turning off devices and other sources of blue light
  • journaling

Weight management

Two of the most important things to focus on when it comes to weight management are exercise and nutrition.

Every individual is different, but when it comes to consistent moderate to vigorous physical activity, one of the best things you can do is find something you enjoy. If you hate running, don’t force yourself to run. If you have a park nearby that you absolutely love walking in, do that instead!

The point is, find a way to keep your heart rate elevated for 20 minutes to 1 hour each day, in whatever way feels enjoyable — or as close to enjoyable as possible — to you.

There are many resources on diabetes-related nutrition and diet plans. Your nutrition will depend on where you are in your diabetes journey, how your blood sugar levels are doing, and what works for your daily lifestyle.

It’s important to be in discussion with your primary care physician and any other experts, like a nutritionist if one is available to you, to determine a dietary plan that suits your needs.

Mental health

Our mental health plays a huge role in fatigue, and people with diabetes are twice as likely to experience mental health conditions like depression.

It’s important to check in with your doctor if you experience common symptoms of depression or other mental health conditions for longer than 2 weeks.

Symptoms and their severity can vary significantly between people, but if you suspect you may be experiencing depression, it’s important to speak with a doctor. Meeting with a therapist can also be helpful in many situations.

Whether or not a physician has diagnosed you with depression or another mental health issue, many of the same techniques for addressing diabetes and fatigue can help with feelings of anxiety or sadness. For example, exercise, good sleep, and stress-reducing practices like yoga, meditation, and Tai chi can all help.

Stay focused on diabetes management

Finally, given the relationship between diabetes and fatigue, it’s hard to improve one without the other. But if you do address one, you’ll make it more likely that you can manage the other.

That’s why one of the best things you can do to manage diabetes-related fatigue is to responsibly manage your diabetes.

If you limit the possibility of complications, maintain your blood sugar levels in their target ranges, follow your diet plan and exercise regimen, and subsequently keep diabetes from playing a bigger role in your life, you can make it easier to focus on and address fatigue.

The bottom line

Just because it’s hard to understand and diagnose diabetes-related fatigue doesn’t mean we’re helpless in addressing it.

There may not a magical solution for managing it, but many techniques can help. By better managing your fatigue, you’ll have the added benefit of more effectively managing your diabetes.

Medically reviewed on September 07, 2022

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