As the rooster crows, your body is going through its morning ritual. It’s a routine that dates back to the beginning of mankind. And understanding this morning ritual will finally provide an answer to that frustrating question so many diabetics ask, “Why is my blood sugar high in the morning?”
What's The Dawn Effect In Diabetes?
Let’s start with a quick video overview on the impact of Circadian Rhythm otherwise known as the ‘Dawn Effect’ on diabetes and blood sugar levels.
The Curse Of The Morning Blood Sugar High
Who wants to have to start their day with a boatload of BS (Blood Sugar)?
Morning blood sugar high, anyone?
Spoken with heavy resignation, it’s the most common go-to response to the curse.
The curse of consistent failure (such as the morning blood sugar high), regardless of effort, ‘to be compliant’. And, it’s daily life for the person grappling with diabetes or diabetes-related lousy.
Being Labeled “Non-Compliant”
Have you ever been on the receiving end of the “Non-Compliant” label? The white coat coldness masked as objectivity, “they’re non-compliant”? It’s the often-used reference for an individual who appears to be not following the rules.
I once heard a nurse brush off (punctuated with hand gesture) an individual as a ‘lost cause’ due to their being ‘non-compliant’. I’ve also been privy to family members who dismiss their supposed loved ones with an eye-roll of “they just won’t try” wave off.
The validating ‘non-compliance’ evidence can sound something like this:
- If he would just stop eating junk food.
- If his wife would just stop buying him junk food.
- If he’d just get more exercise.
- If she’d just exercise a little self-restraint.
- He knows what he needs to do, if he’d just do it.
- If she’d just eat more fruits and vegetables.
- If he’d just watch his blood sugar.
Watch that morning blood sugar high.
Watch. Blood. Sugar.
Most have no clue what that even means.
The ones who know are the ones who live it 24-7.
The Frustration of the Morning High
The rise. The fall. The high. The low. The attention. The acceptance. The finger-wagging. The insinuating demeaning questions, “Did you cheat?” “Should you be eating that?” The belittling chiding, “You need to, you ought to, you’ve got to…”
My personal zinger, that would come from well-meaning family and friends when I was eyeball deep into finding a solution for my diabetes type 1 daughter was, “Are you making it harder than it has to be?”
Outsiders want to believe it’s all so simple. And they seem happy to share their opinion with you. They’ve no idea how invasive and pervasive blood sugar is. How, even for the most hyper-vigilant, maintaining blood sugar is an exhausting, never-ending exercise in futility.
Managing Blood Sugar Is Like Wrangling a Snake
Oh! To rejoice in a body that operates without your attention. To enjoy a meal with friends again. To relish an uninterrupted night’s sleep. To adore blissful ignorance, even just a few hours break from blood sugar thinking. To appreciate the high that John Denver sings about, the high that comes from sunshine and life!
Morning Blood Sugar High: The Complete Opposite of John Denver’s (Colorado’s Rocky Mountain) High
For those whom “high” means something far less lovely than what John Denver sings about, high means…
- achy muscles
- flu-like lousy
- brain fog
- demon cravings
- restless sleep and sleepiness
- scratchy skin
- self-destructive thoughts
- emboldened infection-bacteria-viruses
- heightened nerve pain
- creativity block
- sabotaged productivity,
- memory lapse
- mental impairment
- coordination challenge
- poor judgement
- heaviness and blurred vision
For them every blood sugar reading is both an emotional “D-” report card and a spirit-breaking physical consequence.
Outsiders say, “You can’t blame everything on diabetes.”
Got Health Chaos? Blame Blood Sugar
Insiders know the insidious role, invisible to the eye, that blood sugar plays in every single aspect of life.
To the minimizing naysayers I say, “Yes. Yes you can indeed blame everything on diabetes.”
- Poor judgement? Blood sugar.
- Aggression? Blood sugar
- Forgetfulness? Blood sugar.
- Poor grades? Blood sugar.
- Cancer? Blood sugar.
- Alzheimer’s? Blood sugar.
- Acting out of character? Blood sugar.
- Chronic pain? Blood sugar.
- Weight gain and obesity? Blood sugar.
- Inability to stop eating? Blood sugar.
- Emotional outburst? Blood sugar.
- The ‘sins’ of gluttony and sloth? Blood sugar.
- Poor athletic performance? Blood sugar.
- Inability to keep up with friends? Blood sugar.
- Anxiety at the Thanksgiving table? Blood sugar.
- Separation from loved ones? Blood sugar.
It’s natural to withdraw when in shame and in pain. High blood sugar, neither recognized nor acknowledged by outsiders, takes its toll. High blood sugar happens. Morning blood sugar high happens.
Blood sugar and insulin are a complex, symbiotic relationship phenomenon requiring more than a simple blog post to capture their far-reaching impact. The scope of this article is to hone in on one of its often overlooked, elusive actions that, to those who aren’t aware, can induce frustration and despair.
The morning blood sugar high can mean DEFEAT before your feet even make it to the street.
Insiders know what I’m talking about.
High blood sugar first thing in the morning.
How The Sunrise Factors In…
All of us know that sunshine can give you an emotional high. Very few know that sunrise can give you a blood sugar high.
Wait. Blood sugar rises with the sun’s rise? Yes.
The human body is magnificent at monitoring its systems, anticipating your needs, and supplying you with whatever a particular moment demands. Your survival is paramount. And fuel for energy is one of your most precious resources.
Heart beating. Nerves sensing. Lungs breathing. Brain functioning. All of these systems operate without your conscious bidding. All of them require energy. And all of them motor along even when you’re asleep.
And as morning approaches while you are still fast asleep, your body anticipates the surge of fuel your muscles are going to require to get you up and moving into your day. Think about it, beyond your sleeping body’s energy demands, you’ll be waking and walking, stretching and showering, deciding and dressing, packing lunches, running, hustling, motoring, catching a bus, carrying a briefcase, reviewing the notes on your presentation, multi-tasking and managing many varied activities, etc.
Circadian Rhythm & The Morning Blood Sugar High
And even if your morning routine doesn’t demand that much energy, your primal human wiring is still intimately connected to daily circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm refers to your natural internal processes that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. It repeats every 24 hours.
Pulses of hormones are released to initiate complex pathways that set you up for starting the day. When it comes to blood sugar, that morning blood sugar high is sometimes called Dawn Phenomenon.
Hormones Drive the Morning Blood Sugar High
Cortisol is the steroid hormone responsible for giving you the edge it requires to meet immediate demands for energy. Generally between 2 AM and 8 AM, cortisol is released in anticipation of the impending natural shift or uptick in energy output.
Cortisol, secreted by your adrenal glands, signals your liver to convert some of its stored energy, glycogen, back to glucose. Glucose is your body’s sugar fuel. The liver releases this glucose into your bloodstream. Blood sugar. Isn’t that nice?
Your endocrine system, through the release of hormones, anticipates your needs. Now you have at-the-ready fuel coursing through your bloodstream being delivered to all your muscles and systems. Think of it as your get-up-and-go mechanism.
Insulin Resistance (Diabetes Type 2) & The Diabetes Type 1 Challenge
This is terrific for the body whose insulin functioning is working properly and is able to utilize all that fuel, not so terrific for those who, for varied reasons, are insulin impaired: either insulin resistant (type 2) or insulin non-existent (type 1).
Because these bodies either doesn’t respond to insulin, (insulin resistance), or their body doesn’t make insulin. So for these individuals that terrific flood of glucose/blood sugar is a curse rather than a blessing. Their body can’t take advantage of that fuel. The build-up of blood sugar fuel is a handicap, a weight, a burden.
Rather than waking refreshed and feeling ‘high’, you wake defeated from ‘being high’. High blood sugar.
What makes one person with functioning insulin elated makes another person with non-functioning insulin deflated. That’s because for every gram of blood sugar rise, your pancreas should release the exact right amount of insulin and your cells should respond to that insulin.
Insulin signals cells to take in blood sugar. When insulin is not functioning properly, the sugar builds up in the bloodstream rather than being distributed which in effect lowers blood sugar. This consequence, the build-up of blood sugar, is ‘diabetes’.
Yes, You Can And Will Have High Blood Sugar In The Morning Even After Fasting
Blood sugar is high in the morning because thanks to circadian rhythm, cortisol, and your liver, your body puts sugar into your bloodstream. It is an increase in blood glucose not associated with food intake.
High blood sugar in the morning is simply part and parcel of being human. Knowing this, you can leave defeat, despair, and UNFAIR! off your morning plate. Yes. High blood sugar for those grappling with the damn D (Diabetes), in any form, is unfair. But, a bit of clarity can save you from the “Why bother” response to the morning high blood sugar sting.
Living with diabetes takes grit, stamina, and steady resolve. A “Why bother” emotional response to the inevitable morning high is a defeatist attitude you can’t afford.
Some people can safely wallow in self-pity, shutting down and ignoring life for a period of time. But, the incessant demands of diabetes allow no such luxury.
For anyone deep in their heroic pursuit of ‘better’ health;
- Reducing body weight
- Compromising cancer
- Avoiding Alzheimer’s
- Resolving debilitating chronic nerve pain
- Crushing cravings
- Living as well as possible with MS, PCOS, Type 1, RA, Parkinson’s and many other metabolic menaces…
…knowing blood sugar is key.
That’s why it’s critical to know everything you can about blood sugar.
Knowing the simple science of the morning blood sugar high, you can silence the demons that drive feelings of defeat and despair. Expect it. It’s normal. Keep calm. SHIFT on.
We all wake up high.
Be grateful if you never have to think about it.
Be kind to those who do.
The 3 Reasons Why Blood Sugar Is High In The Morning
If you are struggling with morning high blood sugar, here are 3 reasons why your blood sugar is high:
- Circadian Rhythm
As explained above, your body operates on a 24-hour cycle. And early every morning your liver releases glucose (sugar) into your blood to prepare the body’s energy needs for the day to come. This is also known as the “Dawn Phenomenon“.
- Last Night’s Meal
What you ate the evening prior will impact your morning blood sugar. On a basic level, the higher the carbohydrate (sugar) level, the more impact you may see. Learn more about the impact of carbohydrates on blood sugar.
Added stress causes the release of “fight or flight” hormones which trigger the release of glucose into your bloodstream to address the need for additional energy.
General High Blood Sugar FAQ
What is Blood Sugar?
Blood sugar is the term for glucose circulating in the bloodstream.
What Causes Blood Sugar to be Higher in the Morning?
There are 3 factors that impact morning blood sugar:
1.) Previous Meal – Carbohydrate is blood sugar. Carbohydrate, broken down upon digestion, is glucose which enters the bloodstream. Protein, whatever amount is in excess of what the body requires at the time of eating, is also converted into glucose. Every gram of carbohydrate (minus any fiber) and about 50% of the protein consumed ends up as blood sugar. Morning blood sugar value may reflect last night’s meal, late night snack or middle of the night food activity certainly. Food is just one (but the most powerful one) influencer of blood sugar.
2.) Stress – Our emotional reactions to life circumstances and our thoughts regarding life situations influence blood sugar. Stress is not necessarily negative. The tendency is to view stress as the accumulation of unease over the challenges of life. This is solid truth. However, even positive stress like moving to a new home, starting a new job, a surprise party in your honor, or scoring the winning goal can elevate blood sugar. It all comes down to hormones. Adrenaline and cortisol are secreted automatically in response to a mental and emotional reaction to any kind of life moment that’s experienced with feeling. These stress hormones trigger the liver to dump glucose into the bloodstream. Stress can certainly be involved in a morning blood sugar high.
3.) The Dawn Phenomenon / Circadian Rhythm – (See “What is Circadian Rhythm / Dawn Phenomenon?” answer below.
Is Higher Morning Blood Sugar Normal for Diabetes and Insulin Resistance?
Everyone experiences an increase in blood sugar in the morning. And along with this natural daily blood sugar increase insulin is secreted to match it and to shuttle the sugar into energy-needing cells. However, for those with impaired insulin function (Type 2 Diabetes, Insulin Resistant Folk, Autoimmune Type 1 Diabetes), the automatic morning blood sugar dump by the liver is problematic as they are required to perform the necessary tasks of managing that blood sugar rise themselves with medication or exogenous insulin.
What is Cortisol?
A steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands, released in response to stress and/or a low level of blood glucose. Its functions are to increase blood sugar through gluconeogenesis, to suppress the immune system, and to aid the metabolism of fat, protein and carbohydrate.
What is Glucose?
Glucose is the fundamental component of carbohydrate. Carbohydrate, upon digestion, breaks down into glucose. When this glucose enters the bloodstream it’s referred to as Blood Sugar.
A steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands, released in response to stress and/or a low level of blood glucose. Its functions are to increase blood sugar through gluconeogenesis, to suppress the immune system, and to aid the metabolism of fat, protein and carbohydrate
The process by which glucose is formed in the liver from a non-carbohydrate (glycogen or protein) source when blood sugar is low.
Hormone secreted by the alpha cells of the pancreas, which signals the liver to break down stored glycogen into glucose and release it into the bloodstream to maintain normal blood sugar levels.
Additional “Why Is My Blood Sugar High In The Morning” Resources
FOOD B.S. – Learn More
Barbara McDermott’s best-selling book ‘FOOD B.S.’ brings common sense to health gain. FOOD B.S. is an entertaining romp through live with that four-letter word… FOOD. Her refreshing, no nonsense approach of uncovering truth using non-negotiable rules of science demystifies food once and for all.
“A truly unique, witty and life enhancing read!”
Weight Loss Sabotage – Watch Now
In this replay of a live training, Barbara McDermott shares the Big Weight Loss & Health Gain Mistake. and it has nothing to do with food, exercise or medication. It explains why 95% of all diets fail. And why it’s critical that you address it before attempting weight loss.
SHIFT Formula YouTube Channel – Watch Now
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Thank you for explaining the high blood sugar mornings. There have been times when I was so very careful about my carbs and still woke up with high blood sugar. It does make you want to give up. This will take a lot of stress off of my morning, knowing that it is normal, well….as close to normal as I can get.
Yes, not understanding how the body works leads to frustration and often, despair. So happy to hear this was helpful Judy. Thank you for sharing!