Is There A Link Between Sleep and Blood Sugar? Experts Weigh In
Getting a good night’s sleep is incredibly important. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the benefits of high-quality sleep include getting sick less often, achieving a healthier weight, reduced stress, and a lower risk for serious health issues, including diabetes and heart disease. Meanwhile, according to 2018 research published in Pharmacy and Therapeutics, not getting enough sleep has been associated with a long list of health issues, including hypertension, obesity, type-2 diabetes, mood disorders, impaired immune functioning, and cardiovascular disease. And, as it turns out, sleep and blood sugar also have a strong connection — which is vital information to know whether you’re diabetic or not.
Emmy Bright MS, RDN, CD, LDN, shares that research has found a clear association between sleep and blood sugar. “A 2015 study found that those sleeping less than 6.5 hours or more than 9 hours had a higher hemoglobin A1c and fasting blood sugar than those who slept 7-8 hours,” explains Bright.
Furthermore, Bright points out that additional studies have discovered that the more time it takes someone to fall asleep, the higher the chance they have poor glycemic control. “Also, having more overnight wake bouts is associated with a higher hemoglobin A1c and fasting blood sugar,” she adds. “On the other hand, researchers have found an association between good sleep quality and a lower hemoglobin A1c.”
This connection between sleep and glycemic control may result from various factors. “During sleep, our brain has decreased glucose utilization, which might account for higher blood glucose levels,” Bright shares. “We also know that poor sleep is associated with changes in your appetite-regulating hormones, such as ghrelin and leptin, meaning you may feel hungrier and less satisfied with food the day after a poor night’s sleep.”
She says that this could account for more food cravings and less balanced meals, which may lead to higher blood sugar levels. “Sleep disturbances can lead to less energy expenditure during the daytime, which means blood sugar may stay at a higher level than it would if you were moving your body more regularly throughout the day or getting in a workout,” she adds.
Thankfully, you can implement some easy tips to help improve your sleep and blood sugar levels. Although this advice is tailored to people with diabetes, those without diabetes may also benefit.
Go to bed the same time every day.
It’s easy to lose track of time and spend late-night hours watching Netflix or clicking around on the computer. However, not planning ahead and creating a sleep routine for yourself can negatively impact your overall well-being, including your blood sugar levels. Because of this, Victoria Whittington, RDN, recommends creating a routine for yourself and going to bed and waking up at the same time every day to help keep blood sugar levels in check.
“Create a relaxing bedtime routine that lets your body know it’s time for sleep,” she shares. She also notes to avoid caffeine and stimulants within eight hours of bedtime, as they may cause disrupted sleep. “Eat well, exercise, and take any prescribed medication to help manage diabetes,” Whittington adds.
Keep track of your diet and sleep.
Knowledge is power, and keeping tabs on your sleep and blood sugar numbers can help you gather more information on how certain foods affect your sleep quality and quantity.
“Patient sleep management is key, as is knowing your numbers and how food and beverages you consume impact your blood sugars,” explains Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN registered dietitian nutritionist and MyFitnessPal consultant. Feller shares that “tracking” is an essential component of patient self-management.
Because of this, Feller recommends downloading a tracking app, such as MyFitnessPal, that can be paired with sleep trackers and wearables, allowing you to easily follow your sleep data and food diary side by side.
“This way, you can begin to make connections between what you’re eating in the hours leading up to bedtime and the quality of your sleep,” Feller explains. For example, if you notice more disrupted sleep when you have carb-filled or starchier meals later in the day, you can tweak your diet choices accordingly.
Eat regular meals.
Eating regular meals is a simple way to have a better night’s sleep. “One thing I always tell my patients is to focus on regular meals, including starting with a nutritionally-complete breakfast every morning,” explains Bright. Bright shares that, based on a 2016 review published in Advances in Nutrition, skipping out on breakfast may be associated with poor sleep and can be detrimental to blood sugar levels. “Our circadian clock controls many of the systems involved in glucose metabolism, including enzyme and hormone activity, and therefore plays an essential role in insulin sensitivity.”
According to a 2017 randomized controlled trial published in Diabetes Care, not eating breakfast can disrupt our circadian rhythm, “which is itself associated with reduced insulin production and more insulin resistance,” Bright adds. “It’s also associated with a higher hemoglobin A1c and risk of prediabetes, specifically in adolescents, and may lead to lower GLP-1 and insulin responses after lunch and dinner,” she adds.
Not only that but Bright shares that skipping meals in general, whether it’s breakfast or lunch, might cause you to be hungrier during later meals, which could cause you to eat past your “comfortable point of fullness” more often. “In other words, skipping meals could lead to compensatory eating, thus leading to higher-than-normal blood sugar levels,” Bright shares. “Research has shown that eating irregularly is associated with poor sleep and a higher risk of metabolic syndrome, regardless of one’s calorie intake.”
She points out that, on the flip side, according to a 2018 review published in Cambridge University’s Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, eating breakfast regularly may be associated with healthier sleep habits, better sleep quality, and more stable blood sugar responses in the afternoon and evening. The more you know.
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