Being tired is one thing, but when you feel tired all the time and can’t seem to enjoy things anymore, we have a problem. There are lots of reasons you might be experiencing chronic fatigue. Dysregulated blood sugar could be one of those reasons.
What is Blood Sugar Health?
To understand our blood sugar health, we must first understand sugar. If you want to sound like a smarty pants, you can use the scientific term “glucose.” When we eat carbohydrates (donuts, bagels, pasta, vegetables, whole grains, fruits), the end product is glucose, which the body uses for fuel. As you can see from the list of carbohydrates, some of those things are not the like others.
What’s the difference? Well, for one, you don’t get a sugar rush from eating broccoli. And you don’t get many, if any, beneficial nutrients from eating a donut. A rush of sugar to the blood stream on a consistent basis (aka giving into your Cookie Monster tendencies too often) can interfere with heart health, hormones, energy levels, skin appearance, digestion, and so much more.
Whether or not you have diabetes, I recommend that everyone learn more about their blood sugar health and use it as a tool to achieve better health outcomes. Let me explain.
How Do We Measure Blood Sugar Health?
Does this mean you have to prick your finger? I use a blood glucose kit regularly to see how food, exercise, and sleep impact my blood sugar levels. Aren’t you a little curious about what’s going on underneath the surface? For instance, there have been times when I think I’m hungry, but my blood sugar tells me otherwise, or when I think I’m eating something healthy, but my blood sugar proves me wrong. It’s a pretty neat party trick.
But if you’re not into needles or blood, you can also tune into your body’s symptoms.
If you’re experiencing symptoms such as weight gain, fatigue, and sugar cravings, you might be experiencing high blood sugar, or hyperglycemia. On the other hand, if you experience headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, fatigue, weakness, and the “hangry” phenomenon (you want your food and you want it now!), then you might be experiencing low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia (1).
Did you notice that both hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia can lead to fatigue? How can two opposite experiences lead to the same symptom, you ask? Well, think of throwing a ball. The higher you throw it (hyperglycemia), the farther it falls (hypoglycemia). Sending your blood sugar on a high just means it is going to crash, bringing it lower than normal and leaving you feeling irritable, fatigued, and foggy headed.
But furthermore, chronic high blood glucose levels leads to insulin resistance, which, in a nutshell, means that our cells are starved of glucose and aren’t receiving the fuel that glucose provides. No fuel = a car that can’t run.
The Link Between Cortisol and Blood Glucose Levels
Yes, of course stress plays a role here! When we are stressed out, our adrenal glands pump out the hormone cortisol, which raises our blood glucose levels. Over time, not managing our stress and cortisol levels can lead to diabetes, insomnia, and HPA-axis dysfunction. And when we experience cortisol dysfunction, we experience fatigue, carb and/or sugar cravings, a tendency to overeat, brain fog, and dizziness.
High insulin levels can also increase cortisol levels. High insulin, triggered by high blood sugar levels, causes inflammation in the body. Cortisol responds to high inflammation because – surprise! – cortisol is anti-inflammatory. Seems a little backwards, huh?
How Sleep Affects Your Blood Sugar
So now that we see how stress and cortisol can affect our sleep, it’s time to bring it full circle. Sleep deprivation leads to fatigue for obvious reasons. But what’s not so obvious is how it impacts our blood glucose levels. When we are sleep deprived, our bodies become more insulin resistant. We also tend to overeat and make poor food choices when we’re tired – the body is trying to get quick energy (2). Of course, the best thing you could do is to take a nap or work on improving your sleep quality, but perhaps your boss might not agree with you snoozing at your desk in the middle of the day.
How Your Blood Sugar Affects Your Sleep and Energy
Eating sugary or carby foods before bed can cause your blood sugar levels to spike, which might be why you’re waking up in the night and causing you to feel lackluster the next day. In addition, high insulin levels during your precious ZZZ time blocks human growth hormone release, which is the hormone that helps you repair and recover. If you wake feeling famished or tired, then you might need to re-think what you’re eating at night. I like a combo of a complex carbohydrate and a healthy fat, such as half a banana with almond butter, or a slice of roasted sweet potato with coconut oil and cinnamon. Think healthy carbs, not sugary ones like donuts.
Other Causes of Fatigue
Of course, dysregulated blood sugar is not the only reason for fatigue. Other factors can contribute to fatigue, such as anemia and low thyroid. If you are experiencing fatigue that keeps you from enjoying life, I urge you to work with a healthcare practitioner to get to the bottom of it. It can make a world of difference when we have enough energy not just to get through the day, but to also enjoy things that make us happy!
The Bottom Line
Managing our blood sugar levels can help decrease cortisol levels, improve our sleep, and keep an appropriate amount of sugar in our blood stream to keep our energy up (but not too high!). When you learn how to troubleshoot your blood glucose levels, it becomes second nature and you begin to learn how to eat more intuitively. You might even just look at a donut and feel your blood sugar rising!
If you need some tips on where to start, check out some of my other posts:
Or schedule some time with me! I’d be happy to show you how to use a blood glucose kit to learn more about your amazing body.