How Blood Sugar Affects Your Ability to Fall and Stay Asleep

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blood sugar and fruitWhen we eat, our body uses food for energy. We get hungry because our body needs more energy.

Blood sugar, as it relates to pre-diabetes or Type 2 diabetes, is much more complex than consuming too much sugar or carbohydrates. Our blood sugar is affected by an imbalanced diet, stress, regular snacking, and a more sedentary (or overactive) lifestyle, as well as any health concerns or disease (types of stress on the body).

If our brain thinks we are in a constant state of stress, then our bodies perceive sleep as more of a hindrance, rather than a necessity. Lack of sleep then perpetuates blood sugar problems, resulting in a cycle of irregularity.

Cortisol, our stress hormone, along with food intake triggers the pancreas to release insulin, which then takes sugar into our cells for immediate energy. When insulin levels become too high or don’t get into the cells (known as insulin resistance), our blood sugar drops, potentially leaving us craving sugary, fatty, and carbohydrate-laden food for quick energy.

Chronically elevated cortisol levels tend to predominantly cause abdominal fat due to its higher affinity for cortisol. Moreover, fat cells increase estrogen (which slows down our thyroid, responsible for weight), and releases inflammatory molecules, which is a stressor to the body.

Insulin resistance is another type of stress. Losing weight and regulating blood sugar, two important risk factors contributing to sleep apnea, become an uphill battle to correct with insulin resistance.

While the mechanism is not quite clear, many studies have linked poor sleep to insulin resistance, which in turn can contribute to poor sleep because the stress of insulin resistance adds to cortisol secretion. Cortisol and melatonin (our sleep hormone) vary inversely from day to night, respectively, as cortisol wakes us up in the morning, declines throughout the day, and melatonin puts us to sleep around 10:30/11pm (before we get that second burst of energy).

However, blood sugar is more than just carbohydrates and sugar-laden foods, but can also come from healthy foods that have a high glycemic index, ie. Food s that quickly spike your blood sugar before it plunges. For example, foods with a lower glycemic index may keep you satiated longer because there’s not as much sugar, so less release of insulin.

Stress affects sex hormones (i.e. estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone), another hindrance in proper blood sugar function as testosterone issues (low in men, high in women) are is linked to decreased insulin sensitivity.

A comprehensive metabolic panel first picks up tests for blood sugar and any issues related to insulin where the glucose marker measures blood sugar as a snapshot in time. Another marker is called hemoglobin A1c, a marker of sugar on red blood cells over the course of 3 months, so less likely to vary over time. C-peptide is a useful test for beta cell function of the pancreas, as it helps gauge the levels of insulin present, and may provide insight to glycemic control and potential risk for Type 2 Diabetes. Consider other tests as well, such as thyroid, vitamin D (lower levels linked to developing Type 2 Diabetes), and hormones, as these may provide additional insight as to why blood sugar levels may be abnormal.

Fortunately, there are many ways to naturally mitigate the effects of blood sugar issues through lifestyle, nutrition, and proper supplementation. Fasting for at least 12 hours between dinner and breakfast helps the body reduce blood sugar levels and stabilize insulin. Nutritionally, fiber (i.e. ground chia, ground flax, avocados, beans, nuts, and seeds) helps keep us satiated and reduces insulin secretion, and a nutrient like chromium (i.e. green beans, broccoli, meat, eggs) help cells take in insulin and improve metabolism. A quality B complex is imperative as it is involved in over 300 reactions in our body, important in blood sugar control, our stress response, and sleep, due to promoting the formation of tryptophan (precursor to melatonin). Magnesium, otherwise known as ‘nature’s relaxer’ (will also help with sleep), is involved in over 500 reactions, helps glucose enter cells, and numerous other benefits. Also, elevated blood sugar increases magnesium loss in urine, so replenish through foods like dark leafy greens, avocados, black beans, and nuts and seeds. Supplement vitamin D as an appropriate post lab test, as levels can be too high.

There are many other strategies too through nutrition, lifestyle, and supplementation to improve blood sugar related issues, and the reason we have these concerns differ from person to person. Physical stressors may appear in other forms of symptoms or tests, and emotional stressors may be obvious or unresolved (or both).

Emotions are stored in our tissues and each organ system is representative of a different emotion as well, such as in Chinese medicine waking up at certain times of night points to dysfunction of that organ. Further, certain pharmaceuticals can worsen blood sugar issues (or create new ones), or deplete the body of some of the vitamins and minerals listed above.

Supplements will supplement, not replace, an unhealthy lifestyle, so it’s imperative to work with a knowledgeable professional to develop a comprehensive and individualized plan to address how you arrived in this present state, and what is your personal goal towards healing and prevention of future concerns.

Anti snoring devices are considered a supplemental way to prevent snoring, but natural methods and sleep tests should be performed first prior to snoring mouthpiece usage.

About the Author Dr. Serena Goldstein, ND

Dr. Serena Goldstein, ND is a practicing Naturopathic Doctor based in New York specializing in hormones related to sleep, mood, stress, PMS, peri/menopause, and andropause. She believes in foundational health through diet, sleep, stress reduction, and lifestyle.

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