Even when the human body is asleep it requires energy. When the body is awake and needs fuel, it turns to glucose in the muscles.
However, in sleep, the muscles are relaxed and unmoving. So instead the body turns to the liver to produce the glucose it needs.
When the liver releases the glucose, there is not always enough insulin available to control it, so blood sugar rises.
This early morning blood sugar spike is known as the dawn phenomenon.
The dawn phenomenon is a normal, natural rise in blood sugar that occurs in the early morning hours, between roughly 4-8 AM when the person is about to wake for the day.
Everyone experiences the dawn phenomenon. It’s simply a matter of how high the blood sugar goes, and if the body can respond without intervention. People without diabetes likely never even notice because their body has sufficient insulin available to control the glucose.
A person with diabetes is more likely to experience symptoms because there is either not enough insulin available, or the body’s cells are resistant to it. Therefore, someone with diabetes is more likely to experience the effects of morning high blood sugar. These effects can include nausea, weakness, disorientation, and extreme thirst.
Managing blood sugar levels is nothing new to most people with diabetes. A combination of diet, exercise, and medication often help keep the symptoms and complications under control.
In the case of dawn phenomenon, there are some additional changes that may help prevent issues caused by the spike in blood sugar:
Sometimes, the dawn phenomenon is stronger because blood sugar control medicine from the evening before has worn off. This could be true of medications like insulin, metformin, and sulfonylureas. This is one reason why it is so important to take medication in the dosage, and at the time your physician advises.
Communicate with your physician and ensure you are taking your medications in the correct way. If blood sugar is frequently high in the morning, be sure to discuss it with your healthcare team; they may wish to adjust your prescription, your dose, or the time at which you take it.
Eat a balanced dinner that contains good fats, protein, and plenty of fiber. After dinner, try doing some light physical activity. Going for a walk, a few yoga poses, or simply stretching before bed. The more you move, the lower blood sugar is likely to be.
Some think that by avoiding a late dinner, you will have lower morning blood sugar. However, this strategy can backfire. In fact, the longer the body is without fuel, the more likely it is to overcompensate by releasing more glucose. It’s best to have a small snack before bed.
Some good bedtime snack ideas for diabetics are: 1 cup of blueberries or strawberries, 1 ounce of full-fat cheese with 4 whole wheat crackers, or ¾ cup full-fat Greek yogurt sprinkled with cinnamon.
It is likely that a person with diabetes will experience high morning blood sugar levels from time to time. Occasional, mild issues from dawn phenomenon are not too worrisome. However, if the frequency begins to increase, it is crucial to speak with your doctor.