Hypos present themselves in many different ways; at times with physical, mental, or emotional effects, at other times they can be funny, ridiculous and worth the occasional anecdote on Twitter. Mostly they can be pretty scary and they always make you feel rubbish. As an all-consuming all-body sensation, they’re a difficult experience to articulate in the moment, and even harder to describe in the middle of the night.
In light of ongoing developments with the artificial pancreas, a device that will forever change bedtime for people with type 1, and the fact I love my sleep, I thought it would be fitting to use the next couple hundred words to celebrate what might soon be a thing of the past: night-time hypos.
Flu-like hot and cold sweats, shaking, confusion and a pounding heart rate is not how I like to wake up during the night, but a violently broken night’s sleep is unfortunately a fact of life for people with type 1 diabetes. I really notice my body’s energy levels suffer the next day because of the interrupted sleep and the physical toll of going hypo, so it’s like being struck with an intense hangover without all the fun the night before.
Hypo awareness varies person to person, day to day. I think I have fairly good awareness but the odd one slips through and catches me off-guard. Sometimes I can be asleep and be woken with surprise as I feel a prod in my side – my girlfriend is waking me up because I’m “acting hypo” in my sleep. Fortunately for me, she’s developed an internal hypo detector that works night and day and takes to waking me to test just in case. Most of the time she’s spot-on and without this prod, I might have woken up a bit later or slept through a hypo, or it could have been more serious.
My type 1 impacts a lot on my girlfriend’s life. She lets it impact her because she cares, just like anyone close to someone with the condition. This includes helping me deal with night time hypos and forgiving me for forgetting about it in the morning. I usually resemble a zombie during a night time hypo. Any sort of real communication is minimal and all my concentration is on stuffing my face with sweets, and we have stories just like any other type 1 relationship; a scatter of biscuit crumbs and rogue gummy bears and Dextrose wrappers are found within the sheets on a regular basis in my house, which prove vital evidence of the night’s forgotten hypo. People without type 1 find this hilarious – I suppose a stash of sweets and biscuits next to the bed isn’t normal for most people! As fun as it may sound, hypos during the night are usually worse than during the day :
- They can wake me up suddenly, like being hit with a lorry
- I’ll be lower than normal by the time my body feels it and wakes me up (in the two’s usually, which feels rubbish at the time)
- I lose sleep – 30 minutes to one hour per hypo usually, and I can have more than one a night sometimes
- I feel the broken sleep the next day, like a hangover, and it sometimes lasts all day
- Hypo hunger is fierce at night and my carb counting skills aren’t great while half asleep. This results in a massive rebound and I wake up high, feeling rubbish for the rest of the day.
I should point out that my observations are from an adult’s perspective of type 1 during the night and meant to be light hearted. But the reality is that the ordeal is really not nice for anyone. Parents of children with type 1 have none of the fun of eating sweets in bed and usually endure years of broken sleep checking their child’s blood glucose.
Since I started wearing flash glucose monitoring I have been able to understand what’s happening to my levels during the night and interestingly shows that on occasion I go hypo but my body corrects it before I get the dreaded prod from my girlfriend or get wrenched out of sleep by the adrenaline of going really low. Before this detailed insight into my levels while asleep, I would only know I i’d had an undetected hypo when I would feel groggy the next day.
These and other advances in research and technology make me optimistic that people with type 1 will get their bedtime back.
For now, we can raise awareness of what it’s like to live with night time hypos and have the occasional giggle over shortbread crumbs in the sheets. Happy World Diabetes Day (and night).