Anna: How to figure out the problem with morning high blood sugars

girl puzzled
Posted on June 18, 2015
by Anna
I have posted about this issue on June 6 but now I’ve found a website that not only provides a better explanation but offers the solutions as well.  It’s Diabetes Forecast.  Boy, am I glad I stumbled upon it.
You wake up to blood sugar spike, as if you were eating cookies all night.  This is not uncommon in people with diabetes but there are ways to get those numbers down.   There are two possible things that can cause that: dawn phenomenon and waning insulin.  The third possibility is Somogyi effect but this one is controversial, Diabetes Forecast states.
Whatever the cause is, the source of the BG spike is your liver.  The liver is where glucose is produced and stored, and then hormones signal the liver to release glucose into the bloodstream for energy.  This usually happens between meals and overnight.
With diabetes however, there is a hormone imbalance because of either an impaired insulin production by pancreas or too much of the hormones that counteract insulin.  Either way, chances are that a wrong signal is sent to the liver that prompts it to pump out more glucose than it should, hence we’re having a case of an overproductive liver.
DAWN PHENOMENON or dawn effect
It takes place when your liver releases glucose in between 3 to 6am, in people with typical sleep schedule.  I found out that if I go to sleep at around 10 or 11pm, this happens to me at around 3am.  This is supposed to be counteracted by insulin produced by the pancreas.  People with diabetes however, might not have enough insulin or they’re having an insulin resistance so their blood sugar stays elevated and continues this way into the morning.
Eating breakfast helps to normalize blood glucose levels; it signals to the body that it is day and time to rein in the anti-insulin hormones.  It’s very important not to skip breakfast.
Some folks believe that it’s the dinner in the night before to blame for the morning spike but it’s actually a dawn effect.
This applies to those who are taking insulin as a medication.  What happens is that an evening meal could lead to higher than normal blood glucose levels in the morning after.   I think by ‘evening meal’ they mean a bedtime snack.  The cause may be too little mealtime insulin, waning long-acting insulin from an evening injection, or not enough overnight basal insulin through a pump.  So the blood glucose levels may creep as you sleep.  With waning insulin, the rise in blood glucose is typically more gradual than with the dawn effect.
Another name for this is “hypoglycemia rebound”.  It was named after a researcher who first described it.
The theory is that if a person with diabetes experiences hypo overnight, the body produces anti-insulin hormones to counteract this and bring blood glucose levels back up, the body can overdo it which leads to a morning high.  It is usually described as blood glucose level taking a dip (hypo) at around 3am, and then a morning high follows.
There is a split opinion as to the mere existence of this effect.  Diabetes Forecast states that it’s controversial and unproven.  However some other sites claim that it does exist and back it up with their personal experiences.
This involves some ‘detective work’ as Diabetes Forecast puts it.  I personally did this for a few days. I would check my glucose at bedtime which was around 10 or 11pm, then wake up at 3am, check blood sugar, back to sleep and checked it again in the morning.  It’s important to sleep about 4 to 5 hours in between blood sugar checks.  Comparing the changes in blood sugar levels will help you to figure out which effect takes place.

bedtime blood sugar  3am blood sugar  morning blood sugar

normal                           normal                    high                       DAWN EFFECT

normal                           high                          high                       WANING INSULIN

normal                            low                            high                       REBOUND (Somogyi) 
You need to discuss your morning highs with your doctor and see if he / she advises to adjust your diabetes medication or physical activity.   For those using insulin pumps, you can adjust your basal rates.  I don’t use a pump so can’t elaborate further.
Diabetes Forecast further states that to overcome Somogyi Effect, you should either eat a bedtime snack with some carbs and protein in it.  Also discuss your target blood glucose range with your doctor.
In my case it was none of the above but a DISORGANIZED LIFE that I will discuss in my next post.  After having adjusted my testing times, my morning numbers were doing fine for a while.  And then boom, a spike, 111 for absolutely no reason.  I figured maybe my bedtime snack was a culprit, and switched to the one with protein & low carbs.  I had half a cup each of ricotta cheese and cold milk that I love.  Comes next morning, my number is 103.  Yay.

4 thoughts on “Anna: How to figure out the problem with morning high blood sugars”

  1. My issue is popcorn at 10:30 PM. Yes i know it is the dreaded POPCORNY effect. Named by; well just me really.


  2. The explanation I was given by my doctor years ago was that my blood sugars rose in the morning due a natural cleansing process by the liver each morning. I guess it follows with the dawn effect you talk about but with a different rationale. In a normal person the body naturally compensates for the liver removing the insulin from it’s system but a diabetic can’t due that. Again it is similar to the hormone explanation you gave but to me its seems worded just a little different.


  3. Thanks, well explained, I am diabetic for the past 15 years, but now very much under control with proper diet, work outs and change in way of living


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