Have you ever woken up in the middle-of-the-night and aren’t sure why? Or felt really restless at night and spent your time tossing and turning? The culprit may actually be low blood sugar.
How can your blood sugar dip as you spend the night snoozing? “Low blood sugar can cause restless sleep because even though we are sleeping, our body is still using glucose as its energy source for our heart to beat and our brain to dream,” says Tony Castillo, a registered dietitian with Nutrition for Performance in Stuart, Florida. That could result in nightmares, sweating and shakiness that triggers a stress response that wakes you up, he explains. Low blood sugar is also called hypoglycemia.
Getting good sleep is important for everyone. In fact, poor sleep affects your health and weight, and people who log fewer hours of sleep or don’t get consistent sleep are more likely to have a higher BMI, according to research in JAMA Internal Medicine. Doing what you can to ensure an adequate and restful night of sleep is one key factor in maintaining a healthy weight.
WHY YOUR BLOOD SUGAR IS LOW AT NIGHT — AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
While alterations in blood sugar are often thought to apply to people who have diabetes, adults without diabetes also experience dips and rises in their blood sugar that have effects on their body. What you eat, how much, when and at what times all impact your blood sugar levels. Here’s what might be going on:
YOU SKIPPED DINNER (OR DIDN’T EAT ENOUGH)
Maybe you skipped your last meal of the night because you were too busy to eat or you did so intentionally. Or maybe you didn’t eat enough and went to bed hungry. You might even find you wake up hungry in the middle-of-the-night and can’t go back to sleep with a gnawing stomach. That’s a good time to grab a light snack, even if it’s in the middle-of-the-night. While it’s perfectly fine to listen to your hunger cues, it’s also important not to skip dinner if you are hungry. To keep this happening in the future, be sure to consume a dinner that’s a blood sugar-balancing meal. “Ensure that dinner is comprised of a high-fiber carbohydrate, fruits and vegetables, and a protein source,” says Castillo. A fillet of salmon with farro and asparagus or a marinated tofu bowl with peapods and brown rice could both do the trick.
YOU ATE THE WRONG BEDTIME SNACK
Cookies, ice cream, chocolate and crackers are all examples of bedtime snacks that can have an ill effect on your blood sugar. “Low-fiber, high-sugar snacks before bed can cause a spike and then a drop in blood sugar,” says Castillo. That drop can happen during the night while you snooze.
A better option is a snack that pairs a high-fiber carbohydrate with a high-protein food, he says, as this combo triggers a more even blood sugar response. Some examples include Greek yogurt sprinkled with whole-grain granola or berries with cottage cheese. If you’re eating lower carbohydrate, then you want a fat and protein snack, like nut butter swirled into Greek yogurt or cottage cheese.
YOU DRINK ALCOHOL
Some people find drinking alcohol lowers their blood sugar. It does this by increasing your insulin response (which can take blood sugar levels too low) and it inhibits the natural process where the body can turn non-carbohydrates (such as amino acids from protein) into glucose, notes Endotext. Taken together, there’s less glucose available to the body, and you get low blood sugar.
It’s important to curb your drinking to decrease the negative effects. (If anything, it does not help a potential hangover to spend part of the night awake anyway.) Decrease the amount you drink at night when you’re out with friends. Sip water in between drinks to help offset dehydration from alcohol, which can make things worse, too. Cut yourself off earlier at night.
Castillo also recommends adding some extra vegetables while drinking to help stabilize blood sugar during the night. Eat the crudites off the charcuterie board (don’t leave them hanging around lonely) or order a salad as your appetizer before dinner.
YOU’RE WORKING OUT HARD BEFORE BED
When you start your strength workout or head out for a run, your body releases stress hormones, which increases blood sugar, according to the Cleveland Clinic. This is all normal, and in the end, exercise improves blood glucose levels overall. However, very intense exercise before bed may cause a spike and dip in blood sugar similar to eating that sugary, refined carb bedtime snack, Castillo says.
You have two options: One, experiment with the timing of exercise to see if that helps glucose levels stay more even. If nighttime is truly the best time for you, then make sure you eat something after your workout. Aim for carbs and protein, says Castillo, such as a banana with chocolate milk.
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