Blood sugar levels can change while your sleeping, which could be a problem if you have diabetes. Eating a bedtime snack may help – but it can’t just be any snack if you’re trying to control blood sugar levels. We explain what causes blood sugar changes overnight, why protein-rich low carb diabetic snacks before bed may help with blood sugar levels, and some great bedtime snack ideas.
Changes in Blood Glucose Levels Overnight
Even while asleep the body continues to use energy for vital functions. This is called the basal metabolic rate (BMR) or resting metabolic rate.
A person’s BMR during the day will depend on their body composition (like height, weight, and age) but generally BMR is roughly 15% lower when asleep.
Glucose is a go-to source of energy of vital organs, particularly the brain. According to this study, brain neurons have a high energy demand and brain consumes about 20% of the glucose-derived energy. making it the largest consumer of glucose in the body.
So it’s natural for blood sugar levels to fluctuate as the body uses glucose throughout the night. And for people with diabetes, glucose levels can increase dramatically (hyperglycemia) or get very low (hypoglycemia).
Blood sugar levels can end up high in the morning for people with type 2 diabetes. Eating a lot of carbs the night prior is one reason. Other possible causes are the dawn phenomenon and Somogyi effect.
The Dawn Phenomenon
The dawn phenomenon happens between 3am to 8am, when blood sugar levels surge as part of the body “waking up.” This is a natural process of the body and is usually not a problem for most people.
But the dawn phenomenon can cause high blood glucose levels for people with type 2 diabetes for people with diabetes, who have insulin resistance.
The Somogyi Effect
The Somogyi effect theory causes high blood glucose in the morning due to the body’s response to blood glucose levels dropping too low at night.
If blood glucose levels drop significantly during the night, the body responds by releasing hormones that cause glucose levels to increase. But this response results in having too high blood glucose levels in the morning.
People with diabetes can also have their blood glucose levels get too low. And hypoglycemia is more likely to happen when taking common diabetes medications that are meant to lower blood glucose.
Insulin is a vital hormone that controls how the body processes blood sugar for energy.
It’s also one of the most common treatments for type 2 diabetes (second only to Metformin). Insulin is prescribed to people with diabetes because they aren’t able to produce enough insulin and/or use insulin efficiently.
However if a person’s insulin dose is too high, too much glucose is absorbed from the blood and can lead to hypoglycemia (including when asleep). Hypoglycemia is a serious condition so you should talk to your care provider about an insulin dose adjustment.
Glipizide and glimepiride (under the sulfonylureas class) are another common type 2 diabetes medication that signals the pancreas to release more insulin. Hypoglycemia is one of the potential adverse effects of Glipizide so talk to your care provider if low blood sugar happens when on this medication.
Picking Bedtime Snacks for Diabetics
Bedtime snacks help keep blood sugar from getting too low while asleep, which then lowers the chances of high blood sugar in the morning (the Somogyi effect). But you have to be picky with snacks!
Typical snacks – like crackers, bread and sweets – are high in carbs and can cause blood sugar spikes while asleep, and even carryover into the morning. Having consistently high glucose levels in the morning contributes to high hemoglobin A1C, keeping you in the diabetes range.
Ideal Bedtime Snacks for Diabetes
From our perspective, the ideal bedtime snack is something with low carbs but high protein with healthful fats. We all know that eating carbs when you have diabetes can make conditions worse so this applies to bedtime snacks as well.
Proteins are not only necessary for muscle maintenance and growth but they’re also more satisfying (especially animal-based proteins). This is beneficial because you’re less likely to overeat proteins, which helps with controlling weight gain.
And bedtime snacks with healthy fats are calorie dense. So a small bedtime snack with healthy fats can give enough calories to satisfy nighttime hunger without overeating.
5 Best Diabetic Snacks Before Bed
Here’s our picks for best bedtime snacks for people with diabetes (from lowest carbs to highest). We try to avoid packaged, highly processed snacks because they’re usually high in carbs. Instead, we recommend sticking to whole food (or less processed) sources.
Hard Boiled Eggs
Not only do they have very few carbohydrates, eggs are protein-rich and packed with essential amino acids. While there’s a bunch of ways to eat eggs, there’s nothing easier and simpler than a hard boiled egg.
Just add a little salt and pepper, or low sugar condiment to taste. And an easy meal planning hack is to hard boil eggs ahead of time so you’ve got all your bedtime snacks for the week.
Pair these meats with a little cheese (also relatively low in carbs) and you’ve got a savory, satisfying bedtime snack that’s not likely to spike your blood sugar.
Greek Yogurt or Kefir
Low sugar Greek yogurt and Kefir contain a moderate amount of fat and between 5-10 grams of carbs per serving. And compared to typical yogurt, Greek yogurt and Kefir contain more protein.
We definitely recommend plain versions over flavored or fruit filled to avoid any added sugars. And for flavor add blueberries, strawberries or other low sugar fruit.
An avocado is full of healthful fats with a good amount of calories. And while its has about 20 grams of carbs, most of those carbs are soluble fiber which can be beneficial for diabetes. This dietary fiber actually slows down the absorption of carbs and helps flatten any post-meal blood glucose increases.
A delicious bedtime snack is avocado and smoked salmon on top of cucumber slices. The richness of the avocado pairs well with the salty, savory salmon – all with very few carbohydrates!
A handful of mixed nuts are packed with calories mostly coming from healthy fats. Definitely stick to lower carb nuts like almonds, walnuts, macadamia and hazelnuts – all of which are under 20 grams of carbs per serving.
You could also use nut butter versions of these low carbs nuts to change things up. Nut butter with celery sticks or cucumber slices make very healthful snacks.
Tips on Bedtime Snacks
It’s easy to go overboard with bedtime snacks and end up over eating. You can avoid this by having a bedtime routine around your bedtime snacks.
- Try to limit your bedtime snack to one or two servings so you don’t overeat. If you find yourself usually hungry before bed, it’s better to eat more at dinner than a larger snack before sleeping.
- Drink water with bedtime snacks to help with proper digestion. Water also makes you feel fuller, making it less likely to overeat right before bed.
- Make it a habit to measure blood glucose right before bed and when you wake up. This will show if/how your bedtime snacks are affecting your fasting blood glucose.
Blood sugar levels change throughout the night and could cause problems for people with diabetes who need to manage blood sugar levels. A bedtime snack can help glucose levels from dipping too low and keep the body from overcompensating with more glucose (the Somogyi effect).
The best bedtime snacks for people with diabetes are protein-rich and low carb. We recommend hard boiled eggs, deli meats, whole Greek yogurt or kefir, avocados, and low sugar nuts. All of these have enough calories to satisfy your nighttime hunger but still have less than 20 grams per serving.
And it’s important to limit bedtime snacks to a couple servings. While a low carb high protein bedtime snack may not cause blood glucose spikes, taking in too many calories can still lead to weight gain. Portion control is important for diabetes self-care so this applies to bedtime snacks as well.
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