Blood sugar & Sleep
Waking up throughout the night can seriously damage the quality of your sleep. If you suffer from night awakenings, you might want to check your blood sugar, because low blood sugar is one of the main causes of night awakenings in people.
What is blood sugar?
Blood sugar is sugar in the form of glucose that gets absorbed into your bloodstream from the foods that you eat. It’s the body's preferred source of energy. So, whenever there's glucose available aka sugar, your body's going to jump on that and converted it into energy for you
Whether you want to sleep better, lose weight, balance your hormones, have a better mood, have more energy throughout the day, prevent heart disease, or avoid diabetes, having stable blood sugar levels throughout the day and night is crucial.
How does the body control blood sugar levels?
Your blood sugar levels rise every time you eat something because every food you eat gets broken down into three building blocks: protein, fat, and glucose. All of these, even the fat and the protein raise blood sugar levels because eventually everything gets turned into sugar one way or another. However, glucose has the biggest effect on raising your blood sugar. So, if you eat sugar, sugary foods or even foods that might not be sugary, but that you're sensitive to, your blood sugar doesn't just go up (which would be fine)but it spikes and it shoots through the roof.
Every time our blood sugar rises, the pancreas releases insulin. Insulin is a hormone that unlocks the key on the cell door so glucose can enter the cell from the blood because glucose can’t get into the cell. So, insulin acts as a key, opens the door and lets the glucose get out of the bloodstream into the cell where it gives you energy. At that time, the blood sugar levels drop in the blood, because the glucose goes into the cell. But the insulin stays in the blood for a while. So, if you have a spike of blood sugar, you have a spike of a large amount of insulin that comes into the blood to help you get that sugar out of the blood into the cell. However, the insulin stays high, so now you have a high amount of insulin in the bloodstream with low levels of glucose. This causes a blood sugar crash in your body.
How can you tell if your blood sugar is low?
Some symptoms of having a low blood sugar include:
- Feeling hangry
If you're feeling hungry and irritable, that can be because your blood sugar is low.
- Feeling tired
Assuming you're well-hydrated, fatigue generally is a sign of low blood sugar.
Some people get the shakes if they don't eat and that is a sign that their blood sugar is low.
Feeling anxious can also be a sign that your blood sugar is low
- Heart palpitations or irregularities in your heartbeat
These issues can oftentimes also be related to a low blood sugar
If your blood sugar drops too low, your body needs really quick access to energy.
So, what do you do?
You eat or drink something high in sugar to get it back up.
But then, your blood sugar spikes up again as well as your insulin and again, you have a sugar crush. This roller coaster of high glucose and high insulin hurts your whole body, including your sleep.
How does blood sugar affect your sleep?
Cortisol is our stress and awake hormone as well as an anti-inflammatory. In addition to that, cortisol also has the role of providing your body with energy.
It is normally released in large amounts in the mornings to wake you up - that's what we call the cortisol awakening response. You want that nice spike of cortisol in the morning to get going and make it through the day.
However, cortisol also rises in stressful situations to give you energy by flooding your body with glucose. This glucose comes from proteins that were stored in the liver that get converted into glucose in a process that's called gluconeogenesis. That way, the body uses energy that it has stored before for these stressful situations to allow you to react quickly.
In providing us with this quick energy, cortisol interacts with another hormone, and that is insulin.
But how does this interaction between cortisol and insulin then cause sleep issues?
What can you do to stabilize your blood sugar?
- Do not skip meals: Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner and potentially a snack mid-morning and mid-afternoon, depending on how you're doing. Whenever you get hungry, your blood sugar is already low.
- Eat within an hour of waking up and have a savoury breakfast with a lot of protein. Oatmeal with fruit for breakfast with nothing else is a really bad idea. This spikes your blood sugar and it doesn't set you up for a healthy blood sugar response for the rest of the day
- Eat non-starchy vegetables first, then eat protein and fat. Have your starchy vegetables (potatoes, carrots, etc) and sweet things at the end of a meal. This way, there's already food in the stomach that is digested slowly and that will slow down the release of sugar into the bloodstream from the starchy vegetables that are specifically high in glucose.
- Add cinnamon to your meals because cinnamon lowers blood sugar levels and can help.
- Avoid fruit juices or dried fruit. Eat the whole fruit, ideally with the peel because that is where the fibre is and the fibre slows down the release of insulin.
- Move after every meal. Go for a 10-minute walk after every meal or do some housework, because moving helps get rid of excess glucose and stabilizes the blood sugar.
- Every snack that you eat should contain protein, fat and fibre. This will help stabilize the blood sugar and avoid spikes.
- Eat until you're full. Ideally, your main meals should last you three to four hours before you start thinking about the next meal. If you're not quite there, really look at your plate and assess if you're having enough protein and enough fat to keep you satiated.
- Avoid snacking all the time. Every time you snack, you raise your blood sugar and this will trigger a constant release of insulin.