It's not uncommon to assume that healthy late-night snacks are a key part of preventing overnight blood sugar lows. While it might be true for some people, the latest research shows that's not always the case. Nighttime blood sugar can be affected by many factors including activity level, medication, and type of diabetes. If you're trying to decide whether you need a bedtime snack, here's what you need to know
If your overnight blood sugar is typically steady, you probably don't need a snack at all. In fact, if you have type 2 diabetes, nighttime noshing might work against you. Even if they're low in carbs, snacks can be a sneaky source of extra calories. Over time, that can spell weight gain that eventually leads to additional problems with blood sugar control.
Do: Be open to trying different healthy nighttime snacks.
Don't: Assume that what works for someone else will work for you.
If you're prone to overnight blood sugar lows, snacking may be a helpful strategy but it shouldn't be the first one. Before heading for the pantry, talk to your doctor about whether a medication adjustment can help. Certain diabetes medications, especially insulin, can cause drops in blood sugar while you sleep, and changing the dose or timing of your insulin may do the trick. Drugs like sulfonylureas glipizide or glyburide, as well as Prandin and Starlix, are sometimes used in treating type 2 diabetes and can also cause low blood sugar—if you're taking one of them, a simple medication change may be all you need.
Do: Remember that food isn't the only factor that affects blood sugar levels.
Don't: Adjust your medication without first consulting your doctor.
Things you do long before bedtime can impact your glucose levels overnight. A cocktail or a glass of wine with dinner may seem innocent enough, but alcohol can prevent the liver from manufacturing glucose for hours, potentially lowering blood sugar while you slumber. Then there's exercise—working out is such a powerful blood sugar management strategy that its effects can linger for up to twenty-four hours. To be on the safe side, you may want to avoid strenuous activity within two hours of bedtime.
Do: Check your blood sugar levels after you work out to see if you need to grab a bite before bed.
Don't: Stop exercising—healthy habits are an essential part of diabetes management.
If your doctor determines that medication isn't the cause of your overnight lows, you might be among those people who do need a nighttime snack. The best way to find out is by testing your blood glucose about an hour before turning in. If your numbers are lower than 140 mg/dl, by all means, eat up. Everybody's blood sugar response is different, and you may have to experiment to find the best healthy late-night snacks. Many people find that carb-based foods that also contain small amounts of slowly-digested protein and fat are a good option.
Next time you need an idea for what to eat before bed, try one of these healthy late-night snacks that are suitable for people with diabetes. They're nutritionally balanced to keep blood sugar on an even keel, and small enough that they won't interfere with sleep:
By Karen Ansel, MS, RDN
Mayo Clinic, Late-night eating: OK if you have diabetes?
Diabetic Living, Hypoglycemia: Take Charge of Your Lows
Diabetes Forecast, Uncommon Causes of Hypoglycemia
Joslin Diabetes Center, Why Is My Blood Glucose Sometimes Low after Physical Activity?
Diabetic Living, Sleep Safe & Sound: Avoiding Overnight Low Blood Sugars
Joslin Diabetes Center, Avoiding Nighttime Lows
These articles are not a substitute for medical advice, and are not intended to treat or cure any disease. Advances in medicine may cause this information to become outdated, invalid, or subject to debate. Professional opinions and interpretations of scientific literature may vary. Consult your healthcare professional before making changes to your diet, exercise, or medication regime.