When you’re feeling tired, unfocused and irritable or having night sweats and waking up too early, are your hormones always to blame? As a woman over 40, there’s a reason why you may be sweating, restless and unable to stay asleep… and it’s nothing to do with oestrogen. Read on to see why low blood glucose, aka hypos, could be disturbing your sleep.
Waking Up Too Early?
Your Sex Hormones May Not Be To Blame
On Hormones, Glucose and Hypos
A major part of dealing with the modern age is finding ways to manage stress, maintain a healthy weight, stay mentally sharp, keep physically active AND get to bed and have a good night’s sleep.
But this doesn’t always go so smoothly, and women in midlife often find that their energy levels, mood, memory and sleeping patterns are suddenly out of sync.
When you’re a woman over 40, you might suspect that wavering levels of oestrogen are solely to blame.
However, fluctuating sex hormones are not the only reason why your regular daily and nightly rhythms can be disturbed. There’s also the possibility that you’re unwittingly taking a ‘blood glucose rollercoaster’ ride.
What’s blood glucose and what’s a ‘blood glucose rollercoaster’? We’ll take a look at this now.
What is blood glucose?
Blood glucose refers to the amount of glucose (aka sugar) in the blood.
Likely you’ve heard that carbohydrate-rich foods are the primary source of dietary sugars and starches. When you digest carbohydrates, the starches and sugars are converted into glucose. This glucose can either remain in the blood or be stored away for future use.
In fact, it’s not just about the foods that you eat. Your blood glucose level is influenced by your level of activity, medications and supplements, even the amount of sleep you get.
How much glucose should you have in your blood?
Usually, your blood glucose is controlled and remains within a defined range. But there are times when it can become elevated or become low.
Well-controlled blood glucose levels measure between 3.9 and 13.3 mmol/L
High blood glucose levels – hyperglycaemia – are above 13.3 mmol/L
Low blood glucose – hypoglycaemia or hypos – is below 3.9 mmol/L
The odd high or low isn’t usually an issue, but it’s not ideal if they happen frequently. This is where the analogy of a rollercoaster comes into play.
The blood glucose rollercoaster
Some people go through their day cycling through blood glucose highs and lows. It really is as if they’re metabolism is on a rollercoaster ride.
Unfortunately, this blood glucose rollercoaster has a tendency to hijack your life. The highs and lows can cause you to feel sweaty, anxious and irritated or light-headed, sick and fatigued.
And if you veer towards hypos while you sleep, you could be in for a restless night.
How Are Sleep and Hypos Connected?
The relationship between hypos and sleep can be complex, as both can affect each other. Let’s take a look at each in turn:
Impact of hypoglycaemia on sleep
You may feel sweaty, anxious or hungry…
If you have nocturnal hypoglycaemia, where you have hypos while you sleep, this can be enough to disturb your night. Symptoms such as sweating, anxiety and hunger may wake you up and make it difficult to fall back asleep.
Your adrenal response can be triggered…
When your blood sugar drops, the body’s stress response, including the release of adrenaline and cortisol, may be triggered. These stress hormones can lead to increased alertness and difficulty falling or staying asleep.
Your sleep can be fragmented…
Frequent or severe hypos can lead to fragmented sleep. Waking up multiple times during the night can disrupt the normal sleep cycle, resulting in poor sleep quality and daytime sleepiness.
Impact of sleep on hypoglycaemia
Your hormones can become disregulated…
Sleep plays a role in regulating hormones involved in blood sugar control, such as insulin and glucagon. Disrupted or inadequate sleep can affect the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels effectively, potentially leading to blood sugar fluctuations and an increased risk of hypoglycaemia.
Your resistance to insulin may increase…
Lack of sleep or poor sleep quality has been associated with increased insulin resistance, which means the body’s cells are less responsive to insulin. Insulin resistance can contribute to difficulties in maintaining stable blood sugar levels and an increased risk of hypos.
You could be hungrier and crave carbohydrates…
Sleep deprivation can affect appetite-regulating hormones, such as ghrelin and leptin. Changes in these hormones can lead to increased hunger and cravings for high-carbohydrate foods, which can impact blood sugar control and increase the risk of hypoglycaemia.
5 Ideas to Minimise the Risk of Hypos
& Help Improve Your Sleep
Fortunately, there are effective ways to start to encourage more consistent blood glucose regulation. Here are 5 general ideas that could help you reduce the risk of having nocturnal hypos and help you sleep better at night.
1. Eat a complex dinner in the evening
If you believe you’re on a blood glucose rollercoaster and suspect you’re having hypos at night, it may be helpful to adjust what’s on your plate, and the time that you eat your last meal.
Firstly, try to have a combination of foods that include a mix of proteins, carbohydrate and fat. The protein and healthy fats are important as they help keep your blood glucose more steady and sustain you through the night.
If you eat dinner very early, you might have a snack before bed – again go for a mix of foods so you get the dream combo of carbs, protein and fat.
2. Maintain a regular sleep schedule
Aim for consistent bedtimes and wake-up times to establish a healthy sleep routine.
3. Monitor blood sugar levels, when needed
There is lots of new tech on the market which can help you gain insights on your body to support any changes you make. These include continuous blood glucose monitors, which record how your blood glucose changes throughout the day and night.
4. Practice good sleep hygiene
Create a sleep-friendly environment by ensuring a comfortable, dark, and quiet bedroom. Avoid any triggers that can stimulate your adrenal stress response – this includes screens, socials and difficult conversations too.
To enhance your bedtime routine, I recommend you try using Better You Magnesium Flakes or Better You Magnesium Sleep Lotion for their muscle-relaxing, calming effect.
5. Review your supplements
Do you take a mix of supplements? There are several nutrients which can maximise your body’s efficiency at handling glucose, which means it’s possible to land on a combination that increases your chance of having hypos in the night. If you’re unsure obout which nutrients you really need, a good option is to have a thorough review.
Just because you’ve reached midlife it doesn’t mean there’s a crisis ahead, but you may be finding that bad sleep is a significant and ongoing issue. After the age of 40, women often think it’s all down to changes in oestrogen, but having wider and ongoing fluctuations in your blood glucose levels can cause a similar effect – leaving you feeling restless, sweaty and prone to irregular sleep.
Being stuck on the blood glucose rollercoaster could contribute to a sleeping pattern where your blood glucose level plummets and you wake up in the early hours. But there are ways to improve this and working with the support of a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner can help. Adopting supportive bedtime habits, balancing your meals and eliminating unnecessary supplements could help balance your blood glucose levels and restore regular sleep.
Images by Jen Theodore and Ella Ollsson at Unsplash