Artificial pancreas may help people with type 1 diabetes avoid nocturnal hypoglycemia

For people who have type 1 diabetes, even diligent daytime monitoring of blood glucose levels may not be enough to keep the possibility of nocturnal hypoglycemia off of their minds. The imminent threat of losing consciousness, or even one's life, likely diminishes many diabetics' quality of sleep.

However, recent research has shown that closed loop insulin delivery treatments may help children and adolescents with type 1 diabetes sustain healthy blood sugar levels while sleeping. Now, a study published in the British Medical Journal indicates that this type of device, also known as an artificial pancreas, may be a good option for adults who have type 1 diabetes, too.

The researchers explained that nocturnal hypoglycemia can occur when a sleeping individual does not realize that his or her blood sugar has decreased to an unsafe level. To help prevent this, the artificial pancreas senses blood glucose levels throughout the night and automatically dispenses optimal amounts of insulin.

To evaluate whether this device is more effective than a traditional insulin pump, the scientists asked a group of 24 participants with type 1 diabetes to test one mechanism or the other on two separate nights.

The study's results showed the artificial pancreas increased the amount of time that individuals maintained optimal blood glucose levels while they slept by 28 percent. Also, since many people with diabetes eat or drink before bed to help prevent nocturnal hypoglycemia, this method was found to reduce the period of time during the night in which subjects were hyperglycemic, or had high blood glucose.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers tips on how people with type 1 diabetes can reduce their risk of experiencing hypoglycemia. The agency suggests that these individuals should avoid taking hot showers immediately after using insulin injections, since this can cause the insulin to be absorbed too quickly.