It’s easy to underestimate just how far a good night of sleep can go in impacting your overall well-being. Your sleep health can affect everything from your blood pressure and immune system to your cognitive abilities and memory processing. There’s also a connection between sleeping patterns and blood sugar levels, says One Drop coach Sandra, a registered dietitian/nutritionist (RDN) and certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES).
“Inadequate sleep is similar to experiencing chronic stress in the body, which stimulates higher levels of cortisol, leading to an increase in blood sugar production,” she explains. “High levels of cortisol can also increase insulin resistance and lead to high blood pressure.”
What’s more, the relationship between blood sugar and sleep goes both ways: Research shows that people with blood sugar levels in the prediabetes range are more likely to have poor sleep compared to those with healthy glucose levels. Even if you don’t have diabetes, overnight low blood sugar (or hypoglycemia) can cause sleep problems.
The underlying mechanisms that connect blood sugar and sleep are still being studied, but it’s clear that the two are linked in more ways than one. So, managing your blood sugar means managing your sleep schedule, too (and vice versa).
Of course, healthy sleep patterns and blood sugar trends look different from person to person, so it’s always a good idea to get personalized guidance from your doctor and your One Drop coach to figure out your own happy medium. But, if you need a few basic strategies to help you balance the two, here are Sandra’s tips.
Keep Late-Night Snacking to a Minimum
Whether you love a sweet or savory nighttime snack, it’s best to indulge in any bedtime eating in moderation. Sandra recommends avoiding large meals late at night (a good rule of thumb is to stop eating and drinking around two hours before going to sleep), as they can cause indigestion and may contribute to hyperglycemia (or high blood sugar), which can interfere with sleep. Similarly, she adds, drinking too many fluids at night can disrupt your sleep because you’ll most likely be waking up every hour to use the bathroom.
And, if your bedtime beverage of choice happens to be a glass (or two) of wine, keep in mind that too many alcoholic drinks before bed can not only lead to a night of poor sleep, but it can also increase the risk of low blood sugar at night and, possibly, more lows (or highs) the next morning, says Sandra. “Having a ‘nightcap’ or alcoholic beverage before sleep may help you relax, but heavy intake robs you of deep sleep and REM sleep, keeping you in the lighter stages of sleep,” she explains. “You also tend to wake up in the middle of the night when the effects of the alcohol have worn off.”
For a healthy snack that won’t disrupt your sleep or blood sugar levels too much, Sandra recommends sticking to complex carbs and healthy fats, such as cheese and whole-grain crackers, fruit with ricotta cheese, or a hard-boiled egg with avocado. Just remember to test your blood sugar before and after trying these snacks so you can better understand how they impact your health, and talk to your One Drop coach if you have questions.
Get Outside More
Getting a good night of sleep isn’t just about what you do in your bedtime routine; it’s also about how you take care of yourself in the hours leading up to that.
For example, how much time are you spending outside most days? Daylight is key to regulating daily sleep patterns, explains Sandra. When you’re consistently exposed to natural light, your circadian rhythm (a.k.a. your body’s internal clock) “synchronizes” with the sunrise and sunset, causing you to feel more awake during the day and sleepier at night, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Spending more time outside not only benefits your sleep patterns, but also your blood sugar levels. Research suggests a link between bright sunlight exposure and a lower risk of both type 2 diabetes and certain heart conditions, due to lower blood insulin and lipid levels observed in those who see more sunlight during the day.
Plus, adds Sandra, there’s something to be said about getting outside for not just the sunlight, but also a little movement. Whether you’re going outside for a 30-minute walk or meeting up with friends to play volleyball in the park, staying active is a key component in managing healthy blood sugar levels, not to mention promoting a solid sleep schedule, she explains. Multitasking at its finest, no?
Commit to Consistency
Taking care of any aspect of your health requires dedication. If you only go to the gym once in a blue moon, you’re likely not going to see much progress in your muscle growth, right? The same goes for your blood sugar management and your sleep health: Both are affected by the decisions you make (or don’t make) every single day.
For example, says Sandra, the time you go to sleep and wake up every day—even on the weekends—matters. A more consistent sleep schedule not only translates to better sleep health, but it may also contribute to healthy blood sugar levels: Research shows that people with irregular sleep schedules tend to be at a higher risk of diabetes compared to people with consistent sleep schedules, not necessarily because those with an inconsistent sleep schedule aren’t sleeping, but because they’re sleeping at odd hours of the day, which confuses the circadian rhythm and, in turn, negatively impacts blood sugar levels.
Consistency matters in what you do before bedtime as well. That means not overscheduling your days so you can have enough time to unwind, says Sandra. She recommends engaging in relaxing activities before bed, such as yoga or meditation, which have been shown to ease anxiety and internal stressors (exactly what you need if you tend to have a racing mind before bed) and have positive effects on blood sugar.
It also wouldn’t hurt to make your screen time more consistent—specifically, relegating it to daytime hours instead of nighttime, as the blue light from your phone, laptop, and other smart devices can suppress your body’s release of melatonin (a sleep-inducing hormone) and affect your ability to fall asleep. Plus, thanks to the way blue light throws off your circadian rhythm, it might also contribute to higher blood sugar levels.
To limit your screen time, “try scheduling times into your daytime routine to check your phone, suggests Sandra. This will not only invite some consistency into your habits, she explains, but it will also “help to limit the number of tasks on your mind all at once and therefore add to an improved feeling of calmness leading up to and at bedtime.”
This article has been clinically reviewed by Jamillah Hoy-Rosas, MPH, RDN, CDCES, and VP of clinical operations at One Drop.