We are all becoming increasingly aware of the importance of a restful night’s sleep and how this benefits our mental and physical wellbeing. Although it is normal to wake up once or twice a night (often we are not even aware of it), continually waking up through the night is going to impact on our lives, especially if sustained over any period of time.
What can cause restless nights?
There are a few reasons why we might have a restless night, such as overheating, medication or needing to go to the bathroom. We have covered many of these in previous blogs, including how our individually handcrafted, natural and sustainable wool bedding can help keep your core body temperature balanced throughout the night and help stop you from overheating. But there is also one other major factor that can impact on our sleep, and general performance during the day…our blood sugar levels.
What is blood sugar?
Blood sugar is sugar in the form of glucose, which gets absorbed into our bloodstream from the foods we eat. It is the body’s preferred source of energy because it is quicker to process than fats or proteins. But that doesn’t necessarily make it better! If you want to sleep better, lose weight, have a better mood, have more consistent energy throughout the day and avoid diabetes, having stable blood sugar levels throughout the day and night is very important.
How does my body control blood sugar levels?
Every time you eat something, your blood sugar levels rise. Everything you eat gets broken down into protein, fat and glucose. All of these get turned into glucose one way or another, as the body needs it - but glucose has the biggest and fastest effect on raising blood sugar levels. If you eat sugary foods, your blood sugar level doesn’t just increase…it spikes. When your blood sugar rises, your pancreas releases insulin, a hormone that that helps glucose to enter your cells from the bloodstream to give you energy.
What happens when I eat a lot of sugary foods?
If you eat a high amount of sugar, your pancreas will release a higher level of insulin, which stays high in the bloodstream to ensure the glucose gets into your cells. This means that you end up with high levels of insulin, but no glucose left in your bloodstream. This causes a blood sugar ‘crash’ in your body. So, you’re tempted to eat more sugary food to boost your energy. This results in a roller coaster of high glucose and high insulin, which not only can impact on your sleep but ultimately can cause other serious health problems, such as diabetes.
How does blood sugar affect my sleep?
This is where another hormone, cortisol comes into play. Cortisol is our stress and awake hormone as well as an anti-inflammatory. Cortisol also has a role in providing our bodies with energy.
Cortisol is normally released in large amounts in the mornings, to wake you up. It also rises in stressful situations by flooding your body with glucose. This glucose comes from proteins that were stored in your liver. This is so that your body can use energy it has stored to allow you to react quickly, if you need to. To do this, cortisol interacts with insulin and can affect your sleep:
- Blood sugar roller coaster: Continuous spikes of blood sugar and a constant release of insulin into your body, triggers the release of cortisol to help you out of the ‘energy dip’. If you have unstable insulin and blood sugar during the day, you will have the same during the night. You need lower cortisol during the night and more during the day, but if your blood sugar is constantly fluctuating, so will your cortisol, which impacts on the release of melatonin – the ‘sleep’ hormone.
- Insulin resistance: Eating lots of sugary goods, leads to constant insulin release and your cells can become less sensitive to reacting to insulin. This can lead to diabetes and inflammation. Inflammation triggers cortisol to rise and affect your sleep.
- Not eating the right things or at the right time: If you’ve managed on snacks and caffeine during the day and don’t eat until late (or you indulge in that late night cookie), your body will release cortisol (your body’s natural ‘wake up’ call) closer to bedtime or even in the middle of the night, to warn you that your blood sugar is too low. This can make it more difficult for you to fall asleep and may also wake you up during the night.
- It’s a vicious cycle: When you’ve slept badly and struggle to get up, the temptation is to eat sugary food when you get up, to boost your blood sugar and feel more energetic. This sets you up for blood sugar spikes and falls during the day, exacerbating the problem for the next night.
How can I stabilise my blood sugar?
- Don’t skip meals: If you can, eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. A balance of fats, proteins and only a small amount of sugar is important.
- Eat within an hour of waking up: Opt for something with protein - rather than just sugar laden options such as oatmeal with fruit - to ensure you have a healthy blood sugar response for the rest of the day.
- Revise the way you eat your meals: Start with non-starchy vegetables, then eat protein and fat. Keep starchy veg (potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes) until the end of the meal. This way there’s already food in the stomach that is digested slowly and will slow down the release of sugar into the bloodstream. You can also add cinnamon to your meals because this can help to lower blood sugar levels.
- Move after every meal: Go for a 10-minute walk if you can but moving generally can help get rid of excess glucose. Even doing some gentle gardening or housework will help.
- Avoid constantly snacking: Every time you snack, you raise your blood sugar level, and this will trigger a constant release of insulin. If you do need a mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack, make sure it contains protein, fat and fibre to avoid a sudden blood sugar ‘spike’.
If you need help in choosing which of our wool bedding might work best for you, please just get in touch via email or call the team on 01752 345399. We're here to help!
Please consult your doctor or other medical professional if you are experiencing on-going issues with lack of sleep or need specific nutritional advice.