Do you often wake up at 3 a.m., your mind racing with thoughts, and you can’t fall back asleep? Try this crazy sounding but highly effective tip: Eat something! Make sure it’s not something sweet but instead something with protein and fat, such as nut butter, a bit of hard boiled egg, or some meat. Make sure to keep some food next to your bed with a glass of water so you don’t wake yourself up too much by going to the kitchen. You won’t feel hungry and most likely won’t feel like eating, but do it anyway as an experiment. Chances are you will fall right back to sleep. Why?
If things go according to plan you don’t bolt awake at 3 a.m. While you’re sound asleep you’re brain is hard at work and needs plenty of fuel. It is forming memories, clearing out old cells, regenerating — all while you’re fasting, having gone hours without eating. In order to give the brain the energy it needs, the body gradually raises cortisol, an adrenal hormone. Cortisol triggers the release or synthesis of glucose to fuel the brain during the nightlong fast and you sleep through the night.
That’s if things are working right. If you suffer with chronically low blood sugar then you are one of those people who is likely to bolt awake at 3 or 4 a.m. People with low blood sugar will have difficulty making enough cortisol to sustain the brain during the night. To compensate and keep the brain going, the body then releases “fight-or-flight” adrenal hormones. These adrenal hormones raise blood sugar back to a safer level to give the brain fuel. Unfortunately, they also raise stress, which can cause anxiety or panic in the middle of the night. This explains why you wake up at 3 or 4 a.m. with a racing mind, an infinite to-do list, in a panic, or some other stress-addled state.
Things you can do during the day to avoid waking up at 3 a.m.
Although a few bites of food may help you fall back asleep, it’s better to prevent that anxious wake up call in the first place. If low blood sugar has you waking up every morning at 3 a.m. try the following tips:
- Always eat breakfast, even if you don’t feel like it, and avoid sugary, high-carbohydrate foods with breakfast. Low blood sugar will cause you to wake up with no appetite. You may even feel nauseous. Eat anyway, you need to break the nightlong fast and stabilize your blood sugar.
- During the day eat frequently enough so blood sugar does not crash.
- Avoid sweets and starchy foods (breads, pasta, rice, potatoes, etc.) and adopt a lower-carbohydrate diet. People with low blood sugar symptoms typically eat too many sweets and starchy foods as well as frequently skip meals. Eat enough protein and healthy fats to sustain your energy.
Ask my office about nutritional compounds that can help you manage your blood sugar better and sleep through the night.