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Is Your Blood Sugar Waking You Up at Night?

So you’ve had an exhausting day doing whatever it is you do. You’re home now, have eaten dinner, and it’s time for your nightly snack, so you grab a handful of pretzels or chips. A little later you head to bed after this long day.

Surely you will have no problem sleeping through the night, right? You fall asleep fairly quickly, but then your eyes shoot open and you look at the clock. It’s probably somewhere between the hours of 1am and 3am. What woke you up? Was there a noise? Is nature calling? (Hint: this is actually not a legitimate reason to wake up. Ideally your body should remain asleep and you just hold it until morning.) Are you able to fall back asleep?

It’s a common problem, unfortunately, for many, but it also has a pretty common cause.

BS wakeup
Did you know it could actually be your blood sugar?

Sleeping through the night means a period of fasting.  This fasting is necessary and healthy for the body to undergo basic “housekeeping”.  However, to sustain a steady blood sugar level, the body will need to tap into stores of glycogen (the form of glucose that has been put into storage for later use).  If you don’t have proper stores of glycogen, or if you’ve recently eaten some kind of carbohydrate that results in insulin spikes (and therefore drops), your blood sugar drops too low causing your adrenals to get involved by firing cortisol to force the body to figure out a plan B to bring the blood sugar back up to normal levels.

Cortisol is a stress hormone.  This stress hormone wakes you up.  Normal circadian rhythm (the sleep-wake cycle) is a cycle of melatonin and cortisol.  Melatonin keeps you asleep while cortisol increases naturally in the morning to wake you up.  However, when cortisol is released in the middle of the night, in what the body believes is an emergency situation, you wake up as a result.

Fun fact: This is where the term “hangry” comes from.  When your body releases cortisol in response to low blood sugar (and feeling hungry), you feel stressed, and therefore angry.

What can you do?

So if you’re in a situation where you do wake up at night, it’s probably easiest to just go have a small snack to help your body get blood glucose levels back in check so you can get back to sleep.  This is still not the time for plain starchy snacks though, even though you most likely will crave it.  This will just cause your blood sugar to rise and fall again.  (This will also deplete your magnesium as your body digests the simple glucose and magnesium is really important for relaxation and sleep.)  Reach for some kind of protein, preferably with some fat and a little unrefined carbohydrate paired with it.  This shouldn’t be a large snack, just something to fix the blood sugar imbalance.

Apple with nut butter

Veggies and hummus

Hard boiled egg with a veggie

Some meat with veggies

How to prevent waking up

While having a quick snack to stabilize blood sugar in the middle of the night can help you fall back into that glorious slumber, it’s always best to prevent waking up in the first place.  Keeping blood sugar levels steady throughout the day can assist in staying asleep throughout the night.  Eating plenty of good fats will help stabilize those levels by slowing the uptake of glucose into the cells, which means they can help prevent those insulin spikes and dips.  So eating meals with a healthy balance of unrefined complex carbohydrates, good quality proteins, and proper sources of fats should hold the body over until the next meal time.

Limit, or better yet avoid, refined highly processed carbohydrates.

Having a snack with protein and fat about two hours before bed can help prevent the blood glucose levels from dropping too low and releasing that cortisol. *Eating too close to bedtime, even a balanced snack, can interrupt sleep as well because it interferes with the body’s natural detox methods. The body will have to choose between detox and digestion and digestion will always win which could keep you awake, especially if you’ve eaten something that causes digestive disturbances.

More to the story

If you have symptoms of regular blood sugar dysregulation, this problem may take a little longer to conquer, and may need professional guidance.  Some of the symptoms include:

Craving sweets

Craving caffeine in the afternoon to combat an energy crash

Irritable before meals

Headache or feeling shaky if meals are skipped or delayed

Keeping a food journal can help you determine if you’re eating too many starchy carbohydrates before bed or eating too close to bedtime. These may be the culprit of your interrupted slumber and if you’re anything like me, this would need to be fixed yesterday because I looove my sleep!

In good health,
Michelle

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