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Blood Sugar & Sleep: Everything You Need to Know

April 8, 2021
Written by
Team NutriSense
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blood sugar and sleep

Blood sugar (or blood glucose) can have a significant impact on your sleep patterns. In fact, uncontrolled glucose levels might be the reason you are having trouble sleeping. 

Sleep and glucose have a bidirectional relationship. In one direction, how well or poorly you sleep will directly impact your glucose levels. In the other direction, what your glucose levels are like going into the night and during sleep will impact your sleep. 

Why does it matter? Blood sugar affects sleep, and sleep affects physical health. Short sleep duration—defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as less than seven hours in a 24-hour period—can have a significant impact on your health. Adults who are short sleepers are more likely to have chronic health conditions like diabetes, obesity, or heart disease. 

So, getting control of your sleep habits can positively affect your health and longevity. We’ll show you how you can do just that by monitoring your glucose levels. 

Why does sleep affect blood sugar?

The relationship between sleep and blood sugar levels is complex. Sleep is essential to allow your body to restore and repair itself. When you don't get enough sleep, several changes occur in your body. Let's explore them one by one. 

Sleep impacts insulin levels

Sleep affects your hormone levels and your circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm naturally controls your sleep-wake cycle by responding to things like light and dark levels. Most people have a reasonably consistent circadian rhythm as adults. 

There is a small group of nerve cells that form what’s called the “master clock” in your brain. This internal clock controls hormone secretion, temperature, eating habits, and digestion. To work optimally, it requires a consistent circadian rhythm. Keeping this rhythm is key to regulating your metabolism, insulin, and blood glucose, as well as your sleep-wake cycle.

When your circadian rhythms are out of sync, your body's metabolic health can decline—and a risk for diabetes can increase. 

Research published in the journal “Endocrinology and Metabolism Clinics of North America” identifies that sleep deprivation reduces insulin sensitivity. This leads your body to produce more insulin to stabilize blood glucose levels. The more insulin resistant your cells become, the greater the risk that your insulin and blood sugar levels will chronically rise. This eventually leads to glucose intolerance and diabetes. 

According to the CDC, even just one night of insufficient sleep can affect your body’s ability to use insulin effectively.

late night eating blood sugar

Sleep regulates hunger hormones

Two hormones that regulate your appetite are leptin and ghrelin. Leptin plays several roles within your body. Two of its key jobs are long-term energy regulation and metabolism. You may have heard it referred to as the starvation or satiety hormone. 

The fat cells in your body release leptin, telling your brain when you have enough energy. When released, it suppresses your appetite, making you feel satisfied. If leptin levels are low, your appetite increases. 

Several studies have found that short sleep duration reduces leptin levels, leading to overeating and weight gain. In turn, the craving to eat more results in an increased intake of carbohydrates which raises glucose levels. 

Ghrelin has the opposite function of leptin, increasing your appetite by telling your brain that your body needs more food. This is one of the reasons why certain fad diets often fail. When you don’t eat enough, ghrelin levels increase, making it harder to stick to your diet.

Another thing that increases ghrelin levels is lack of sleep. The surge in ghrelin prompts you to feel hungry, leading you to eat more carbohydrates, which will raise your glucose levels. 

There is also an added problem with high ghrelin levels, as it can reduce glucose tolerance

Sleep impacts sympathetic nervous system activity

Sleep deprivation, or broken sleep, can lead to an increase in sympathetic nervous system activity. In stressful or dangerous situations, the sympathetic nervous system is what controls your “fight or flight” response. Lack of sleep can cause your “fight or flight” mode to kick in during the day and night, releasing stress hormones like cortisol. 

When your sympathetic nervous system is overly active, it can reduce insulin secretion and promote insulin resistance. Both of these can lead to chronically raised blood sugar levels. 

When blood sugar levels become raised, it can cause lifelong chronic conditions such as pre-diabetes, diabetes, or metabolic syndrome. 

Sleep modulates inflammation

Research shows that sleep deprivation increases inflammation levels in the body. This effect can happen after even a single poor night’s sleep. Inflammation is one of your body’s defense mechanisms, providing valuable protection against viruses and bacteria. 

But, if inflammation is chronically high, it can lead to lifelong conditions such as metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. It can also cause further complications and a poorer prognosis.

blood sugar effects on sleep

Sleep impacts brain function

Glucose is fuel for the brain. It provides the energy needed to carry out its functions. When you’re sleep-deprived, the metabolic activity in your brain decreases significantly. 

Overall, studies state that sleep deprivation has damaging effects on brain function—particularly functions such as alertness, attention, decision making, and cognitive processes. 

Sleep helps to regulate body fat

Sleep helps to maintain your body weight in many different ways, including regulating hunger hormones and insulin levels, as discussed earlier. 

Research published in the journal “Diabetologia” shows that lack of sleep increases levels of free fatty acids in your blood. Those high fatty acid levels lead to a reduction in insulin sensitivity and hamper your body’s ability to metabolize fat. 

Controlling glucocorticoid levels is another body fat regulator. Glucocorticoids are hormones that control several processes such as metabolism, inflammatory response, and brain function. One of the principal glucocorticoids is cortisol (also known as the stress hormone). 

Studies show that when we’re sleep-deprived, cortisol levels increase both during that night of disrupted sleep and the following day’s long period of wakefulness. When cortisol levels increase, it can lead to insulin resistance. This can lead to an increase in blood sugar, weight gain, and potentially Type 2 Diabetes.

So, a lack of sleep negatively impacts your glucose levels in many ways. But what typically happens to your blood sugar levels when you get a good night’s sleep? Do you know what your normal blood sugar levels should be overnight?

what happens to blood sugar when you sleep

What happens to blood sugar while you sleep

Normal glucose levels while sleeping

In a healthy individual, glucose levels will go up and down while you sleep, which is normal. Despite this, they should generally stay within the range of 70-100 mg/dl. 

There is a lot of research available on optimal morning fasting glucose values (after sleeping and fasting for at least eight hours) because these are the values that your physician or a researcher would test at a lab. This research tells us that an optimal waking fasting glucose value is between 70-90 mg/dL. 

But, there is less research available on what optimal glucose levels are while you’re sleeping. So, the advice is currently to aim for overnight glucose values within the 70-100 mg/dL range most of the night and overnight values that keep your 24-hour average glucose below 105 mg/dL. 

To recap, the key glucose levels you are looking to maintain are:

  • Glucose levels when asleep between 70-100 mg/dL
  • Optimal morning fasting glucose values between 70-90 mg/dL
  • Overnight values that keep your 24-hour average glucose below 105 mg/dL

Dawn phenomenon

This is a regular occurrence that happens in every person. In the early morning hours, certain hormones (growth hormone, cortisol, and catecholamines) cause the liver to release sugar into the bloodstream. The process may cause a short-term increase in glucose. This is your body’s “natural alarm clock.”

dawn phenomenon

For most people, the dawn phenomenon usually occurs between 4 am and 8 am, but it does depend on your sleep-wake cycle. Your glucose levels should come back down within a few hours following the release of insulin. 

For those with insulin resistance and/or diabetes, glucose levels have difficulty coming back down after that morning surge. This can lead to higher-than-normal blood sugar levels at the start of the day.

How do blood sugar levels impact sleep?

Remember, sleep and glucose have a bidirectional relationship. Not only does a lack of sleep affect your blood sugar levels, but poor glucose levels also negatively affect your sleep. 

Both too low and too high blood sugar levels can have an impact on your sleep patterns. 

High blood sugar

There are several reasons why high blood sugar levels affect your sleep:

  • Pre-bed high blood sugar levels can affect the nervous system, making it hard to fall and stay asleep. This can trigger insomnia and increase cortisol and adrenaline levels, preventing your body from fully relaxing. 
  • You may need to go to the bathroom more often, disrupting your sleep. This is due to your kidneys trying to flush the excess glucose out of your body.  
  • High blood sugar can lead you to feel dehydrated, waking you from your sleep to rehydrate with a glass of water.
  • They can also cause you to feel hot, irritated, and unsettled, making it difficult to sleep. 

Low blood sugar

Low blood sugar can occur in both diabetics and non-diabetics. It can also be highly disruptive to sleep. Your blood sugar levels can drop due to stress, alcohol, insulin resistance, and other medical conditions. 

Symptoms of low blood sugar include dizziness, lightheadedness, and blurred vision. Low blood sugar levels can affect your sleep in the following ways:

  • It causes the release of cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones wake you up and stir your appetite. 
  • When trying to raise your blood sugar levels back to normal, your body overreacts by increasing your appetite. If you then eat when you should be sleeping, it can upset both your glucose levels and sleep-wake cycle. 
  • Low blood sugar levels can further disrupt sleep by causing insomnia, nightmares, sudden waking, and sweating.
low blood sugar sleep

The sleep disruption caused by high/low blood sugar levels can lead to a troublesome loop of both poor sleep and poor glucose control. 

But, it’s not only sleep duration that impacts glucose levels, making this cycle even more complex. Sleep patterns also play their part in glucose control, so let's explore them a little further, too. 

What sleep patterns impact blood sugar levels?

Sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation occurs when you don’t get enough sleep. The CDC recommends at least seven hours of sleep a night to maintain optimal health. Sleep deprivation is also a form of chronic stress, stimulating cortisol. 

Inadequate sleep will raise glucose levels. There is no getting around it; if you are not getting adequate and sufficient sleep, then your glucose levels will be higher and increase your risk of insulin resistance. Full stop. 

Sleep fragmentation

A fragmented night of sleep disturbs your periods of deep sleep. Newer research shows deep sleep (or slow-wave sleep) seems particularly important in regulating hormone balance. That includes both insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance. 

A study funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) highlights that African Americans with broken sleep patterns and severe sleep apnea are much more likely to have raised blood sugar levels. 

Even if you get a total of eight hours of sleep, disruptions and lack of deep sleep can cause glucose levels to be higher. The study produced by the NHLBI advises that better quality sleep leads to better blood sugar control. 

not enough sleep blood sugar

Sleep insufficiency

Sleep deprivation, sleep fragmentation, or a combination of both can cause sleep insufficiency. Once it sets in, it affects our everyday ability to maintain alertness, perform, and remain healthy.  

It can lead to insulin resistance, as well. One research study showed that participants who slept for just four hours had 40% higher glucose levels on average. The participants’ glucose levels were reaching diabetic status, and on top of that they experienced a 24% decreased insulin sensitivity. 

REM sleep 

REM sleep is a specific stage of sleep which occurs at various intervals throughout the night. During REM sleep, a person often has rapid eye movements, increased body movements, and a faster heart and breathing rate. This is often cited as one of the most important cycles of sleep for recovery and energy. 

REM sleep has a positive effect on glucose levels, as research shows that levels decrease by an average of 5% during REM sleep.

That’s a lot of information to take in about sleep and blood sugar! So, what now? What can you do to get a better understanding of your sleep patterns and glucose levels?

how to monitor blood sugar for sleep

How to monitor your blood sugar levels for better sleep

The only way to get the full picture of what is going on with your glucose levels overnight is to use a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM). A CGM can track your glucose levels while you are sleeping, helping you identify the highs and lows that are disrupting your sleep. You can then use this information to make adjustments to your evening and sleep hygiene routine to improve your overnight glucose levels. It also brings awareness of how your current sleep patterns are affecting your overall glucose levels. Best of all, it’s actionable data that can drive positive change

The NutriSense Continuous Glucose Health Program makes monitoring your glucose levels simple. It demystifies the science behind metabolic health by combining CGM technology with clinical support. 

By using a CGM, you can build a personalized lifestyle routine to optimize your health. If you don’t monitor your glucose levels, you don't have the ability to truly pinpoint the effect your blood sugar levels have on your sleep and vice versa. If you want to take the next step to achieve optimal metabolic health by tracking your overnight blood sugar levels, sign up to get your own CGM today.

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Blood Sugar & Sleep: Everything You Need to Know
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Metabolic Health Using NutriSense W/ Jillian Ceasrine
Metabolic Health Using NutriSense W/ Jillian Ceasrine

On this episode, Jillian Ceasrine, a registered dietitian nutritionist at NutriSense specializing in glucose, metabolism and weight loss, talks metabolic health and CGMs.

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10
min
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Can Music Therapy Help You Optimize Your Health?
Can Music Therapy Help You Optimize Your Health?

Music therapy services are gaining popularity, and research suggests they can help improve overall wellness. Take a look at what they are and how they may be able to benefit you.

Story
10
min
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How Often You Should Eat If You Have Diabetes
How Often You Should Eat If You Have Diabetes

People with diabetes need to be extra careful about meal frequency and the food that they're consuming. Read on to see what the most ideal meal spacing is.

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14
min
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15 Best Weight Loss Tips for Women from a Dietitian
15 Best Weight Loss Tips for Women from a Dietitian

Struggling to lose weight? Here are 15 simple yet effective tips to lose weight brought to you by a dietitian.

Story
5
min
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Modifying Your Diet May Help You Manage Spring Allergies
Modifying Your Diet May Help You Manage Spring Allergies

Before you resign yourself to a season of sniffles and sneezes, consider modifying your diet to manage your allergic responses during spring. Read on to learn more.

Story
11
min
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Best Breakfast Foods To Control Blood Sugar (+Recipes)
Best Breakfast Foods To Control Blood Sugar (+Recipes)

Here are eight breakfast options we love that can help you control and regulate your blood sugar levels.

Story
10
min
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Breakfast Meats: What's Best for Your Health and Blood Sugar?
Breakfast Meats: What's Best for Your Health and Blood Sugar?

If you like your breakfast meats, here’s some good news for you—some can be a great source of protein. Find out more about how some popular breakfast meats fare on the health scale.

Story
12
min
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Why Continuous Glucose Monitoring is Effective for Athletes
Why Continuous Glucose Monitoring is Effective for Athletes

Review the reasons that continuous glucose monitoring continues to grow in popularity amongst the world’s top athletes.

Podcast
87
min
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Kara Collier Talks Continuous Glucose Monitors, Average Blood Sugar Levels and More
Kara Collier Talks Continuous Glucose Monitors, Average Blood Sugar Levels and More

On episode #130 of the Melanie Avalon Biohacking Podcast, Kara Collier, co-founder of NutriSense, talks continuous glucose monitors, average blood sugar levels, interpreting glucose spikes, food combination experimentation, cold therapy, and much more.

Podcast
38
min
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How a Continuous Glucose Monitor Could Help Menopause Weight Loss
How a Continuous Glucose Monitor Could Help Menopause Weight Loss

Catherine is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with NutriSense. On this episode, she discusses what a continuous glucose monitor is, why it's important for women's health and what the data can show midlife women.

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12
min
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Breaking Down CGMs, How They Work, and Their Accuracy
Breaking Down CGMs, How They Work, and Their Accuracy

If you want to make the most of your CGM, it's helpful to know how to use it correctly. This involves learning more about what the device is, how to calibrate it if you ever need to, and what precision and accuracy mean in regards to it. Read on to learn more. 

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6
min
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​​Springtime Sniffles: Causes and Prevention Tips for Your Seasonal Allergies
​​Springtime Sniffles: Causes and Prevention Tips for Your Seasonal Allergies

If you're one of the millions of Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies, you know how important it is to find ways to make yourself feel more comfortable during this time of year. Read more about springtime allergies and what you can do to manage them.

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6
min
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Preparing for a Healthy Ramadan
Preparing for a Healthy Ramadan

From April 2 to May 2, people worldwide observe Ramadan, a time of fasting and spiritual reflection. Learn more about the traditions, and how to healthily break a fast during this holy month with tips from one of our dietitians.

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6
min
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Obesogens: What Are They and Do They Affect Blood Glucose and Weight Gain?
Obesogens: What Are They and Do They Affect Blood Glucose and Weight Gain?

Obesogens are in everything, from the products we use and the food we eat, to the air we breathe! Learn more about what these endocrine-disrupting chemicals are and how you can avoid exposure to them.

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11
min
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Pairing Your Food: Are there Good and Bad Combinations?
Pairing Your Food: Are there Good and Bad Combinations?

Are eggs and beans bad for you? Should you forgo the fruit juice with your cereal at breakfast? The NutriSense Nutrition Team tells you more about how healthy some common food pairings are for you.

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8
min
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Eating for Endurance
Eating for Endurance

Learn everything you need to know about eating if you are an endurance athlete.

Story
12
min
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A Closer Look at Heart Rate Variability
A Closer Look at Heart Rate Variability

Heart rate variability is the variation in time between your heartbeats. Learn more about it, why tracking your trends matters and how it can give you insights into your fitness, stress, diet, and overall health.

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8
min
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Living with Autoimmune Conditions: Multiple Sclerosis
Living with Autoimmune Conditions: Multiple Sclerosis

Living with an autoimmune condition can be challenging. Continuing our series on these conditions, learn more about detecting, treating, and managing Multiple Sclerosis.

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6
min
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Reading Nutrition Facts Labels Like a Pro: Dietitian Tips and Tricks
Reading Nutrition Facts Labels Like a Pro: Dietitian Tips and Tricks

When you're looking to buy a specific food product, the nutrition facts label can help you make informed choices about the foods you eat. Our dietitians put some tips together on what to look for on nutrition labels to make the best choices for your health.

Podcast
46
min
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FUELED | Wellness + Nutrition with Molly Kimball
FUELED | Wellness + Nutrition with Molly Kimball

Molly Downey, RDN, LDN, nutrition manager at NutriSense, delves into all things glucose and wellness, and how devices like these can inform us about our health, on this episode of FUELED with Molly Kimball.

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8
min
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Are Sardines Good for Your Health?
Are Sardines Good for Your Health?

Sardines are small, but they pack a big nutritional punch! Learn more about the health benefits associated with eating them and check out some fun facts about this flavorful, nutrient-dense food.

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9
min
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9 Essential Ways to Track Your Fitness (That Don’t Involve a Scale)
9 Essential Ways to Track Your Fitness (That Don’t Involve a Scale)

Most fitness tracking metrics involve stepping on the scale, but they don't always have to! Here are nine other ways to track your fitness.

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14
min
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Foods You Should Avoid Eating If You Have Prediabetes
Foods You Should Avoid Eating If You Have Prediabetes

There are many food items that can worsen the effects of prediabetes. Here are some foods you should avoid or limit your intake of throughout your day.

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11
min
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How Many Meals Should You Eat in a Day?
How Many Meals Should You Eat in a Day?

What's the perfect time to eat, and how many meals should you eat in a day? Explore how eating at different times and frequencies each day impacts your body and blood glucose.

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6
min
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NutriSense Dietitians Recommend: Glucose-Friendly Apple Cider Vinegar Drinks
NutriSense Dietitians Recommend: Glucose-Friendly Apple Cider Vinegar Drinks

Looking for a way to add apple cider vinegar into your diet? Start with some of these delicious glucose-friendly ACV drinks, recommended by our Nutrition Team.

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8
min
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Benefits of Walking After Eating: From Regulating Blood Sugar To Lowering Blood Pressure 
Benefits of Walking After Eating: From Regulating Blood Sugar To Lowering Blood Pressure 

Find out how taking a walk after your next meal can benefit various aspects of your health, including your blood glucose levels.

Podcast
55
min
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I Think, I Can—Using Technology as a Window Into Your Physiology
I Think, I Can—Using Technology as a Window Into Your Physiology

Molly explains how using a continuous glucose monitor is what personalized health care means. If you want to fine-tune your health, tune in to this special episode of I Think, I Can.

Podcast
10
min
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My Day | My Life: Nutritionist Carlee Hayes' Canine Cuddles
My Day | My Life: Nutritionist Carlee Hayes' Canine Cuddles

My Day | My Life explores the lives of people who have, in one way or another, mastered the art of aging. In this episode, meet Carlee Hayes, dietitian and Nutrition Manager at NutriSense.

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9
min
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Common Workout Injuries and How to Prevent Them
Common Workout Injuries and How to Prevent Them

Worried about getting injured during your next workout? Learn about the most common workout injuries, how they can affect blood glucose levels, and some tips to help you prevent them.

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6
min
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Eat with NutriSense This St. Patrick's Day
Eat with NutriSense This St. Patrick's Day

Would eating the same meal, at the same time, have the same blood glucose response for three different people? See what our team found out after sampling a delicious corned beef and cabbage dish in preparation for St. Patrick's Day!

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7
min
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Build Healthy Habits During Lent
Build Healthy Habits During Lent

Do you know what you're giving up for Lent this year? For those who observe it, this can be a good time to give up bad habits, and add healthy ones into your routine! Read on to find out more about how to build healthy habits this season.

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11
min
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Do You Know How Healthy Your Breakfast Cereal Is?
Do You Know How Healthy Your Breakfast Cereal Is?

Cereal is one of the most popular breakfast foods out there—but how healthy is it, really? Review the nutritional content of some popular breakfast cereals, and learn how to choose a healthy option for your individual needs.

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9
min
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Obesity: What You Should Know and Some New Research on the Condition
Obesity: What You Should Know and Some New Research on the Condition

Did you know that more than two in five adults have obesity? Find out more about the pressing public health issue, review some new research that is shedding light on the condition, and learn how to diagnose and treat it.

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7
min
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Tips for a Healthy, Happy Purim
Tips for a Healthy, Happy Purim

Purim, a joyous occasion celebrated around March or April every year, is just around the corner! Read on to learn more about the holiday and the delicious foods that accompany it.

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9
min
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Vinegar and Blood Sugar: Does It Lower It?
Vinegar and Blood Sugar: Does It Lower It?

Read on to find out what impact, if any, vinegar really has on our body’s ability to balance blood sugar.

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8
min
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Meal Frequency and Insulin Sensitivity: How Many Times Should You be Eating in a Day?
Meal Frequency and Insulin Sensitivity: How Many Times Should You be Eating in a Day?

If you have insulin sensitivity, is eating two large meals a day or three to five smaller meals better? Find out more about the relationship between meal frequency and insulin sensitivity, and how many times you should be eating in a day.

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9
min
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Understanding the Causes and Symptoms of Endometriosis
Understanding the Causes and Symptoms of Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a common yet often ignored condition. Learn more about the symptoms to watch out for, how you can seek treatment, and read first-hand accounts from two women who have dealt with endometriosis.

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8
min
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The Benefits and Risks of Popular Ayurvedic Herbs and Spices
The Benefits and Risks of Popular Ayurvedic Herbs and Spices

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian holistic healing system that dates back over 5,000 years. In the second installment of our series on the practice, review the benefits and risks associated with popular Ayurvedic herbs and spices.

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7
min
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Can Eating Pizza Raise Your Blood Glucose Levels?
Can Eating Pizza Raise Your Blood Glucose Levels?

Pizza can be challenging to enjoy eating without worrying about how it affects your health. But while it may be indulgent, it is possible to prepare or order it in a way that won’t wreak havoc on your health or blood sugar levels. Read on to find out more!

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8
min
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Do Artificial Sweeteners Raise Insulin Levels?
Do Artificial Sweeteners Raise Insulin Levels?

Review our post on the impacts artificial sweeteners have on blood glucose, insulin, and other areas of your personal health.