Regulating your blood sugar is one of the most efficient ways to improve your sleep. This is true if you have pre-diabetes or diabetes, but also way before you get to these stages. It takes years of blood sugar spikes to lead to these chronic diseases.
Sleep issues and blood sugar imbalances
Within about an hour of eating a meal, the food becomes sugar (glucose) in your blood. The higher the spike, the more inflammation you have in your body. High glucose also causes higher levels of calcium. Calcium is excitatory for the nervous system and that can contribute to your insomnia.
Later, the blood sugar will drop. Typically, the higher it spikes, the lower it drops later. If it drops a bit too low, cortisol is produced in response to this, to make glucose available. The body, and especially the brain, wants a steady amount of energy. This spike of cortisol is in one way good and in another way stressful to the body. For example, if you have a meal high in carbs at night, this spike of cortisol happens about 4 hours later. Depending on when you ate, it can either cause you trouble falling asleep, or if you ate very close to bedtime, it will wake you up after a while.
Insulin and blood sugar
The hormone insulin takes sugar out of the blood and puts it in the cells. We want the cells to be very responsive to insulin. If the receptors are resistant, we need a larger amount of insulin, which turns on the inflammatory gene pathways. High insulin increases fat storage and also tends to increase growth.
For women, insulin resistance has been linked to estrogen dominance. Estrogen dominance (in combo with progesterone deficiency) is often at fault for insomnia, especially the week before your menstrual bleeding.
For some women, insulin resistance can cause high testosterone, which can cause PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome). Women with PCOS will have trouble falling asleep or self-proclaim as night owls, when in fact they tend to produce melatonin later at night due to the hormonal imbalance and insulin resistance.
The body becomes more sensitive to insulin during sleep, so if there is a pathology surfacing, this will be more apparent at night. People who are sleep-deprived have a decrease in insulin sensitivity, which makes it harder to handle glucose and tends to increase cravings.
Fasting and insulin issues
Fasting is quite popular nowadays and it can actually improve your blood sugar issues. However, there are a few things to consider.
Women are most insulin-sensitive in the morning, hence it’s best for women to have breakfast. If fasting is considered, skipping breakfast is not the best strategy for women (as opposed to men, who can do better with fasting in the morning). Research shows that a high-protein, large breakfast with an average lunch and a light dinner can diminish cravings, help with weight loss, and improve insulin sensitivity.[i]
Two important things to remember when designing your fasting are favoring eating breakfast; and, if choosing the five days fasting per month, do this after ovulation, since fasting before may impair ovulation. In addition, fasting after ovulation will likely improve your PMS symptoms.
Low blood sugar imbalances and PMS symptoms have some similarities: In both situations you may feel moody, irritable, headachy, dizzy, anxious, and so on. Progesterone is higher in the luteal phase (the phase after ovulation and before bleeding) and it tends to decrease insulin sensitivity. So if you already have some blood sugar issues, they will be highlighted around this part of your cycle.
Strategies to improve your blood sugar and sleep
Focusing on eating high-quality protein and fats, and staying active (while avoiding sugar and alcohol), you will feel better each and every month—and you will sleep better.
One of the best strategies to learn how to regulate your blood sugar effectively is wearing a continuous blood sugar monitor for 2 to 4 weeks. This will take the guesswork out of which foods are not so great for you, and it will help you combine foods to minimize blood sugar spikes. Gradually, this will heal your blood sugar and will help you sleep better.
[i] “Eat a Protein-Rich Breakfast to Reduce Food Cravings, Prevent Overeating Later, Researcher Finds.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, May 19, 2011. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110519113024.htm.