Find yourself waking up in the middle of the night? Sleep quality not so great? If you feel like you’re never fully restored, your blood sugar could be the culprit.
Below you’ll find out why and what to do about it.
What is blood sugar?
Blood sugar is a form of sugar known as “glucose” that gets absorbed into your bloodstream from all the foods you eat. It’s your body’s “go-to” source of energy, and it will convert it to energy whenever it has the chance.
When blood sugar levels are stable, everything works as it’s supposed to. However, when your blood sugar ups and downs are more than your body can handle, it’s going to be harder to sleep, have a good mood, maintain high energy levels, lose weight, prevent disease risk, balance your hormones, and more.
How does the body control blood sugar levels?
Every time you eat something, your body breaks that food down into protein, fat, and glucose – resulting in a blood sugar increase (especially glucose). When you eat foods that contain high amounts of sugar (candy, desserts, white bread/pasta, etc.), it will cause your blood sugar to spike quickly and in higher amounts (high glycemic index foods).
To compensate for the high spike in blood sugar, your body releases insulin – a hormone that lowers blood sugar (by letting glucose into your cells to give you energy). While this is happening, blood sugar levels drop because glucose has gone into the cells. With insulin circulating in your bloodstream in a low glucose state (remember – glucose is already in the cell), this causes a blood sugar crash in your body.
How can you tell if your blood sugar is low?
If you find yourself feeling:
- Heart irregularities or palpitations
It’s possible you’re experiencing low blood sugar levels, making your body crave a quick source of energy – MORE sugar.
So what do most people do? Eat/drink a sugary food or beverage to get those levels back up – and then the cycle begins all over again.
This “blood sugar roller coaster” of high spikes in insulin and glucose is WAY out of its normal range (compared to our ancient ancestors), hurting your body and affecting your sleep.
How does blood sugar affect your sleep?
This is where cortisol (the stress hormone) comes in. While a stress hormone, it’s actually anti-inflammatory and gives us energy. In an ideal world, our cortisol rhythm is highest in the morning and lowest at nighttime. It’s what gets us going in the morning and allows us to make it through the day.
This is where it gets interesting. When you’re body feels stressed, cortisol rises to give your body energy by flooding it with glucose. This glucose comes from proteins stored in the liver that gets converted into glucose in a process known as “gluconeogenesis”. It’s stored in your liver to act as a survival “backup energy generator” in case your body ever needs to energy quickly.
But not only glucose, cortisol also interacts with insulin as well. How does this relate to sleep issues?
1. Insulin resistance + inflammation
By frequently spiking your blood sugar from sugary foods, you’re continuously increasing the amount of insulin needed in the body to remove the sugar from the bloodstream and into the cells.
Over time, this leads to insulin resistance where the cells become desensitized to insulin – leading to diabetes in extreme cases. This increase in blood sugar, insulin resistance, and cortisol increases all result in inflammation – not good for sleep. When you can’t sleep well, it can lead to even more inflammation.
2. Blood sugar roller coaster
With continuous spikes in blood sugar and insulin being released to lower the blood sugar, your body starts to go into overdrive. Low blood sugar levels lead to cortisol being released to raise you out of that energy dip, signaling to your body that it’s time to eat.
With unstable blood sugar and insulin, it can extend into the night, causing stimulatory cortisol spikes throughout the night. Don’t forget, we want cortisol to be HIGHEST first thing in the morning, and LOWEST before we go to bed and while we sleep. Issue is, if your blood sugar and cortisol are constantly fluctuating, it will inhibit the release of melatonin (the master sleep hormone).
3. Not eating the right things at the right time
If you don’t eat enough during the day or consume quick fix caffeine/snacks – your body is going to be overburdened with cortisol/insulin spikes. The result? Your body releasing cortisol close to bedtime or the middle of the night, causing you to wake up.
4. Less sleep equals high sugary cravings for quick energy
If you’re not sleeping well, you might find yourself gravitating towards sugary foods. Why? Because your body is craving sugar for energy. By giving into temptation and eating more sugary food, it leads to further cravings the next day (and more blood sugar rollercoaster).
So what can you do about it?
- Don’t skip meals (intermittent fasting okay for some people)
- Start your day with a high-quality breakfast of protein/fats
- Ensure every meal contains proteins, carbs, and fat
- Avoid sugar fruit juices and dried fruit
- Eat until you’re full
- Add cinnamon to your meals
- Move after each meal
- Combine healthy sources of fat with each meal
- Eat until you feel full
- Avoid heavy meals 3-4 hours before bedtime
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