Why is your blood sugar elevated when you wake up?

Dawn phenomenon. Ideally, blood sugar remains relatively stable while you sleep.  As the morning approaches, the body sends out signals that it's time to start waking up.  Hormones like cortisol and growth hormone tell the liver to make glucose to give you energy in the morning.  This usually happens between 3 am, and 8 am.

Picture your liver as your loud neighbor who likes to throw early morning parties to wake everyone up.  On the other hand, your pancreas is like the police showing up to shut down the party because things get too noisy.

The pancreas releases insulin, the hormone responsible for moving sugar out of the blood and into your cells.  If you have diabetes, the police try to shut down the party, but no one answers the door.  In other words, your pancreas may not make enough insulin, or your cells just aren't responding to the signal.  As a result, your blood sugar stays high even if you haven't had anything to eat.

Eating too many carbs at bedtime. A carb-heavy dinner or bedtime snack can lead to high blood sugar in the morning.  Too many late-night carbs flood your body with extra glucose, and you won't be moving your body to compensate or try to use any of that excess energy.

Insufficient diabetes medication. Your blood sugar may be high simply because your diabetes medication is not the right fit for your body.

5 things you can do to help with high morning blood sugar

1. Make smart carb choices at dinner and bedtime. Limit overeating carbohydrates at dinner or bedtime, especially carbs that are digested quickly and lead to blood sugar spikes like white bread, pasta, sweets, and soda.  Instead, you could try meals and snacks that are rich in protein, healthy fats, non-starchy vegetables, fiber, and complex carbs.  These foods are digested slowly, helping to keep your blood sugar stable throughout the night.2

2. Take a post-dinner walk.  Walking after eating helps your cells become more responsive to insulin and lowers your blood sugar.  Even a quick 15-minute walk around the block after meals can help stabilize your blood sugar.

3. Exercise earlier in the day. While an evening stroll can help keep your blood sugar stable, more strenuous exercise can temporarily raise your blood sugar.  This is a normal response to high-intensity activity.  If you wake up with high blood sugar, try exercising in the morning instead to see if it makes a difference.

4. Keep moving. Speaking of exercise, whether it’s your daily walk, a morning workout, or dancing in the living room to your favorite song—consistency is key.  It’s okay if your body needs a day off to rest, but try not to go more than a day without movement.  Regular movement is so beneficial for managing your blood sugar in the morning and all day long.

5. Talk to your provider about adjusting your medication. If you continue to have higher blood sugar readings in the morning, you may just need a medication adjustment. Your 9am.health care team can help you figure out if this may be the cause of your morning blood sugar spikes and what changes can help you wake up in range.