Sugar and Your Sleep

Guest post brought you to by our Doctor in the House (!), Dr. Natalie Rahr.

What does your blood sugar have to do with the quality of your sleep? EVERYTHING. Here's why.

What is blood sugar?

Your blood sugar is a measure of how much glucose (sugar) is circulating in your blood. This varies depending on when you ate last, what you ate and other factors like exercise or how well you slept the night before.

Insulin is glucose's buddy. It is required to get the glucose into the cells. Measuring blood glucose and insulin gives us a good indication of how well your cells take the glucose in to use it for energy. People who have Diabetes or Metabolic Syndrome tend to have high blood sugar because they don't produce enough insulin or the cells have become desensitized to insulin, called insulin resistance.

Why is blood sugar balance important?

Blood sugar is not only important for those who have a diagnosis of Diabetes or other. The reason it is so important is it affects everything. Blood sugar tells your nervous system whether you are fed or starving. This directly affects your levels of cortisol, your main stress hormone. When your blood sugar is balanced, so is cortisol. When your blood sugar is going up and down constantly, your cortisol follows. In response the body mobilizes your stores of glucose to power that fight or flight response and to get energy to your muscles to run from a perceived threat. Hence, why alot of people who experience hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) also feel anxious or panicked.  And after this response runs out, your energy crashes and you feel exhausted.

How does blood sugar and cortisol affect sleep?

Cortisol is meant to be high in the mornings to get you up and out of bed. It is then meant to steadily drop over the course of the day so that by night you are calm and ready for rest.

Now imagine a different scenario:

You have a sugary cereal for breakfast. Your blood sugar jumps and then crashes a while later. This drop spikes your cortisol to keep your energy up.

You feel your energy drop as the sugar drops and you have that cup (or pot) of coffee. Another surge of cortisol ensues.

Lunch rolls around, you are now starving and so you load up on the carbohydrates from your sandwich or pasta, etc. . Again your blood sugar jumps and drops, cortisol follows.

You feel wiped by 3pm and drag yourself through the rest of the day. Or you have that second cup (or pot) of coffee.

And so on...

By the time night comes, your cortisol has not been steadily on the decline. Moreover, it has been spiking and dropping all day, which continues into the night, disrupting your ability to fall asleep, stay asleep and the quality of your sleep. You wake tired and grumpy the next morning to do it all over again.

Tips to balance your blood sugar and sleep well.

  1. Good sleep starts with breakfast. Make sure breakfast is packed with nutrients, especially good fats and proteins.
  2. Balance throughout the day. Include a good fat and protein source with each meal AND snack.

  3. Choose your carbs well. Remember that vegetables are a huge source of healthy carbs. Skip having carbohydrates like rice, bread or pasta in large volumes with your meals and replace that with protein, good fats and unlimited veggies.

  4. Skip the refined sugar. It's in everything so read your labels and eat whole foods that look as much as possible like it did when it came out of the ground. Eat simply and cook your food as much as possible to keep out the sugar and keep in the nutrients.

  5. Work up a sweat. A moderate amount of exercise during the morning or afternoon can help burn off excess cortisol, keeping your blood sugar steady and calming the stress response in the body.

  6. Restorative activities are huge.  Making sure to calm and clear the mind with activities like yoga, meditation, walking or breath exercises can be useful to break the cycle of that cortisol spike. In this day and age when we are all accustomed to that regular fight or flight response in the body, restorative activities can teach the body where that off switch is again.

Wishing you balance and health!

Natalie Rahr, ND


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