Diabetics, both Type-1 and Type-2, often experience the frustrating issue of high morning blood sugars. Common sense may tell someone with diabetes that if they are fasting for eight (or more) hours while asleep, their blood sugar levels should maintain stable, or even go down. However, our body’s way of storing glycogen, combined with insulin resistance, can result in high blood sugars that can sully any morning.
Dr. Ahmet Ergin of SugarMDs, a diabetes specialist, explains how glycogen is released as we sleep. “The liver is like a machine that stores glucose,” he explains. “As we sleep, the liver provides the body with the glucose it has stored. However, livers becomes blind to insulin if you are insulin resistant.” This “blindness” leads to higher blood sugar readings if there is relatively insufficient insulin in the body to regulate the glucose released by the liver.
This resistance does not mean that people with diabetes must simply suffer from high blood sugar in the morning. There are various ways that the blood sugar can be controlled while you sleep so you can wake up with lower numbers, ready to take on the day.
“But I’m already fasting,” you may say; and yes, while we sleep, we are technically fasting. The problems occur with the liver’s glucose storage.
“It takes about 8-12 hours for the glycogen stores in the liver to be depleted,” explains Dr. Ergin. If a Type-2 diabetic practices more extended periods of fasting, such as 15-18 hours, they can increase their insulin sensitivity and outlast the period of glycogen release from the liver.
Exercise is proven to lower blood sugar, and a regular exercise regimen can help one maintain lower blood sugar in the morning. Dr. Ergin cautions people not to expect immediate blood sugar results from starting an exercise program. The effectiveness depends on factors such as your existing muscle mass and how much exercise you do.
“It’s not going to happen overnight. If your fitness level and muscle mass is good, sometimes the blood sugars can go down right away,” Dr. Ergin says. “But if you are on the other side of the coin and your muscle mass is not good, you may need to do more exercise before you start seeing results.”
3. Water intake
Water can dilute the amount of blood sugar that you have in your bloodstream. While you cannot drink water while you sleep, regular water intake can help you better regulate blood sugars throughout the day and even through the night.
Regularly drinking water can also help lower blood pressure. High blood pressure can be a factor in high blood sugar, so this is another way water contributes to lowering your number.
Certain herbs can help regulate blood sugars, even while you sleep. Dr. Ergin has researched several natural herbs and suggests that people introduce a supplement to their care plan if they want to lower their morning blood sugar.
Herbs such as bitter melon, Gymnema Sylvestre, and Jambolan have all been shown to reduce blood sugar in Type-2 diabetics. “Diabetic supplements are not miracle workers, but used with a healthy diet and exercise, they can support lower blood sugars for many diabetics,” says Dr. Ergin.
Type-1 diabetics need insulin to survive. Unlike Type-2 diabetics, who can treat insulin resistance and sometimes fight back a diabetes diagnosis, Type-1 diabetics have a pancreas that does not produce insulin. As such, they must take insulin to regulate the glucose in their bodies.
To avoid high numbers in the morning, insulin-dependent diabetics should always take enough insulin to get them through the night, cover their last meal of the day, and regulate the glucose released by the liver as they sleep. Suppose a Type-1 diabetic finds their numbers consistently high in the morning. In that case — even if they are sticking to their sliding insulin scale and prescribed pre-meal bolus — they may need to speak to their provider about adjusting insulin levels.
6. Eat smaller meals
“I think we need to change our thought process,” Dr. Ergin says regarding the ways we control blood sugars and manage diabetes. “You should never eat huge meals. Eat a small, healthy breakfast and a small, healthy lunch. If you can’t eat a smaller meal earlier in the day, then try fasting and eating a small dinner instead. Big meals are never good for you.”
Dr. Ergin also stresses the importance of avoiding eating close to bedtime can help keep those blood sugars down.
On the surface, waking up with your blood sugar sky-high may not make much sense. Our bodies are working overtime to store and release energy in the form of glucose as we sleep. For people with insulin resistance, or a complete lack of insulin, this can lead to higher than average blood glucose numbers when they wake up. By following a doctor-recommended diet, exercise, and medication plan structured to lower blood sugar, Type-1 and Type-2 diabetics can enjoy the long-term benefits of overall better-regulated blood sugars.