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  • Writer's pictureMartha Lewis

What you Need to Know about Blood Sugar and Sleep

Updated: Jul 14, 2022

Keeping your blood sugar steady is critical to sleeping well!

If you wake up in the middle of the night, there’s a good chance it’s because your blood sugar levels aren’t healthy.

You can have issues with blood sugar even if you eat healthy and avoid sugar and carbs, especially if you aren’t sleeping well because it’s during sleep that glucose and our hunger hormones are regulated.

The blood sugar roller coaster

If you start your day with pastry and a cup of coffee, your blood sugar is going to spike really high. Also, not getting enough protein and fat with breakfast can cause a spike in blood sugar. Your body will release insulin to lower your blood sugar, and it will also release the stress hormones cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine. Cortisol releases glucose into the cells for energy which raises your blood sugar again.

When your blood sugar gets too low, your body is going to crave quick energy to raise it to normal levels again so you’ll get cravings for sweet treats and more sugar. If you eat more refined sugar or carbohydrate food or drinks, your blood sugar will spike again and you are on the extreme blood sugar roller coaster.

If you’re on the roller coaster during the day, that wild ride continues into the night. When your blood sugar levels drop too low during the night, your body releases those stimulating stress hormones, causing you to feel wired and awake. This is a common reason why many of my clients wake up in the night and have a hard time falling back asleep.

My client Peter

The main cause of my client Peter’s insomnia was low blood sugar at night. I could tell from the intake questionnaire he filled out that he had many signs of blood sugar instability and insulin resistance. His doctor didn’t catch any of these signs! I recommended that he get a continuous glucose monitor to track his blood sugar. Fortunately his doctor agreed t0 prescribe him one. With this monitor, he was able to see how that what he ate immediately affected his blood sugar levels. And he could tell that the higher his blood sugar rose during the day, the lower it would drop at night and affect his sleep.

At age 78, Peter was concerned about dementia. It turns out that the blood sugar roller coaster is one of the main reasons why your brain degenerates. His memory and word recall (and his sleep!) have improved since he got a handle on his blood sugar.

Signs of low blood sugar:

  • Getting “hangry” (hungry and angry) if you go too long without eating

  • Getting spacey, light-headed, dull or have shaking hands between meals

  • Having energy after eating meals (means that your blood sugar was too low beforehand)

  • Not being hungry in the morning

  • Feeling nauseous first thing in the morning

  • Having a drastic energy dip in the afternoon

  • Waking up at 3 or 4 a.m. full of energy

  • Difficulty concentrating between meals

Insulin resistance

If your blood sugar is too high, glucose can’t get into your cells, and so it makes you sleepy and slow. When you have high blood sugar, your body will release insulin to carry sugar out of your bloodstream and put it into your fat cells for storage. When this happens too often, the cells refuse to let insulin in, causing insulin resistance. This resistance is similar to what happens with cocaine, when you need more and more of the drug to feel the effects. When you have insulin resistance, excess glucose and insulin are in your bloodstream causing inflammation, hormone imbalance, and neurotransmitter imbalances.

Insulin resistance causes increased testosterone in women and increased estrogen in men, leading to hormone imbalances that can cause sleep issues.

Too much insulin is also inflammatory for the brain. Whenever your insulin is too high it lowers your brain’s ability to clear the plaques that cause Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is sometimes referred to as type 3 diabetes because of the effects that blood sugar has on the brain.

Every time you become hypoglycemic or need a nap due to insulin resistance you’re killing off neurons in your brain.

Symptoms of insulin resistance:

• Feeling tired after meals

• Sugar cravings after meals

  • Difficulty losing weight

• Your waist is bigger than your hips

• Need to urinate frequently

• Increased appetite

Neurotransmitter deficiency

Insulin also affects neurotransmitter production. You need the right amount of insulin to make neurotransmitters.

One important transmitter for sleep is serotonin. If you don’t have enough insulin, not enough tryptophan, the precursor to serotonin, goes to your brain. Then you don’t make enough serotonin, making you feel depressed and awake at night. Symptoms of serotonin deficiency are depression or lack of enjoyment, PMS, paranoia and poor sleep. A sure sign of serotonin deficiency is craving carbohydrates.

How to balance your blood sugar

To balance blood sugar, avoid refined sugar and carbohydrates and always eat carbohydrates with fat and protein. I help my clients balance their meals and snacks with the appropriate ratio of macronutrients (carbs, fat and protein) for their body using the Metabolic Typing diet.

If you wake up in the night, eating a small snack before bed, about 100 to 200 calories, with complex carbs, healthy fat and protein can help. If the snack helps, then blood sugar is definitely an issue for you.

Avoiding any foods you’re sensitive to is also important because food sensitivities cause blood sugar fluctuations and insulin surges.

If you have blood sugar issues and you aren’t sleeping, your body isn’t healthy. The only way to get better is to find everything that’s causing stress in your body and mind and correct them. You want to look at gut health, hormone balance, minerals, food sensitivities, mental stress and more.

Diet, exercise and random supplements aren’t enough to get back in balance so you can sleep normally. I use functional lab tests to find what’s going on in your body that’s causing your sleep issues so we know what to correct.

You can get the sleep you need to feel rested, function at your best, and enjoy your life. Book a call with me to get started.

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