Is the Dawn Phenomenon the Reason for Your High Morning Blood Sugar?

Have you ever experienced high blood sugars in the morning right when you wake up? You’re not alone! Turns out 50% of people with Type 2 diabetes have high blood sugar first thing in the morning due to what is called the ‘dawn phenomenon.’ 

What is the Dawn Phenomenon?

When we are sleeping our bodies require very little energy. However right before we wake up our body releases different hormones including growth hormone, cortisol, glucagon, and epinephrine. These hormones signal the liver to release glucose (sugar) to provide us with energy as we start our day. This is a natural process of the body. For individuals without diabetes it does not cause any problems as the body will release a small amount of insulin to naturally balance it out. However, for individuals with diabetes, they may have a hard time controlling this early morning rise due to inadequate insulin.

How can I tell if Dawn Phenomenon is impacting my diabetes management?

This abnormal blood sugar increase usually occurs between 2:00 am-8:00 am. If you have noticed a trend of high blood sugar in the morning it would be recommended to check your blood sugar in the early morning, usually between 2:00 am-3:00 am, for a few days in a row. If your readings are high at this time in the morning it is likely that the dawn phenomenon is to blame.

What if my blood glucose is normal or low between 2-3 am?

If you are having high blood glucose when you wake up but it is normal or low when checking with a glucometer between 2:00 am-3:00 am it is likely from another cause. This may be due to the Somogyi effect. This is believed to occur when your blood sugar drops too low and your body jumps in to try to raise your blood sugar back to normal. It does this by releasing hormones that rebound your blood glucose, often leading to a high reading. Other reasons could include that your insulin dose was inadequate before bed, you had a high-carbohydrate snack before bed, or your dose of antidiabetic medication is too low.

What are things I can do to improve high morning blood sugar?

First and foremost, if you are routinely having high blood sugar readings in the morning you should talk to your doctor and/or certified diabetes educator to determine an individualized plan of action. Some examples of what they may suggest include:

Eat Dinner Earlier. If you tend to eat a very late dinner, moving it up a few hours could make a big difference.

Change up or eliminate your bedtime snack. First, determine if your bedtime snack has a purpose. Are you really hungry for it or just eating it because you're bored? If you’re really not hungry, it may be best to just skip it and find something else to do. If you are hungry, try a higher protein snack with little to no carbs, such as a cup of cottage cheese, a handful of nuts, hard-boiled egg, or a low-sugar Greek yogurt. 

Add a light walk after dinner. Participating in some light exercise after dinner will help to naturally lower your blood glucose. Try walking, bedtime yoga, shooting a basketball, or even sweeping or vacuuming the floor. 

Always eat breakfast. Although some people may not want to eat when they see their blood sugars are high, eating first thing in the morning may help balance the hormones that are causing the blood sugars to rise. Experiment with different amounts of carbohydrates and proteins to see what works best for you.

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