Bedtime snacks go against everything we are taught in our nutrition classes. I have always known that eating after 8 p.m. will make me fat, so I avoid it. That all changes when you have diabetes, however. Bedtime snacks can become a critical component of managing blood sugar levels, particularly your fasting blood sugar. Although you would logically expect to have low numbers after eight hours of sleeping, some people with diabetes and gestational diabetes notice higher than expected fasting blood sugar numbers. This is due to what is known as The Dawn Phenomenon.
What is the Dawn Phenomenon?
The dawn phenomenon is a rise in blood sugar during the early morning hours, usually between 3 a.m. and 8 a.m. There are two theories as to why this occurs in some diabetics. One is that it is caused by our bodies naturally releasing certain growth hormones overnight that are linked to insulin resistance. This insulin resistance may be stronger in some people, which explains why some will experience the dawn phenomenon and not others. The second theory, which is where bedtime snacks come into play, is that the liver produces too much glucose after fasting too long. Our livers are designed to produce extra glucose to help us have the energy to wake up in the morning. In people with diabetes, the difference between the insulin and blood sugar produced is often unequal, resulting in higher fasting blood sugars.
To combat this phenomenon, a small snack that contains both carbs and protein can help give your body something to digest longer, keeping your blood sugar levels on an even keel. For gestational diabetes, some recommendations are as high as 45 grams of carbs in a bedtime snack. I have found this number to be much too high for me, but around 30 grams works well. Once I began having bedtime snacks, my fasting blood sugars dropped by about 10 points from an average of mid-90s to an acceptable mid-80s, and recently all the way down to mid-70s. For those of you with diabetes, those numbers may seem very low, but 90 is the highest recommended fasting blood sugar for gestational diabetes.
Other Causes for High Fasting Blood Sugar
Before you start eating bedtime snacks, be sure your high fasting blood sugar levels are not from other causes. If you are insulin-dependent, not taking enough insulin the night before can cause high numbers. Also, if you are already having a bedtime snack, you may be eating too many carbs. Try cutting down the carbs to see if that affects your readings at all.
How Many Carbs in a Bedtime Snack?
Recommendations vary on how many carbs you should have in a bedtime snack, with some sources going as low as 15 carbs and some as high as 45 grams of carbs. I try to aim for 30 carbs or less, always making sure there is a good source of protein to go along with those carbs. My bedtime snack is usually a sweet treat to double as my dessert, such as ice cream or yogurt. I cannot stress this enough – protein is a critical component of bedtime snacks for diabetes and gestational diabetes. The protein is glue that holds your carbs together and keeps you from getting a major blood sugar spike in the middle of the night.
Bedtime Snacks for Diabetics
In a report about diabetes bedtime snacks, Health Castle quotes a study by the Journal of Diabetes Care that suggests bedtime snacks for diabetics only if bedtime blood sugar levels are lower than 126. It also recommends not having a snack if your blood sugar is above 180. If your fasting blood sugars are too high, you may need to work out a snack suggestion with your doctor even if your bedtime readings are high. This is something a dietician would be best suited to answer.
Bedtime Snacks for Gestational Diabetes
If your fasting blood sugar numbers are staying above the recommended 90 mg/dl, try having a bedtime snack within an hour of going to bed. Our requirements are much more stringent than for those with diabetes, so be sure you closely monitor your blood sugar levels. It may help to check your blood sugar before snacking to be sure it is below 120. While it is not clear how much impact a high fasting blood sugar level will have on your baby, I can tell you this: after nearly losing my daughter following a 23 hour delivery because she was too big and not able to breathe, no sacrifice is too large when it comes to controlling gestational diabetes.