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Blood Sugar & Sleep: Everything You Need to Know

April 8, 2021
Reviewed by
Kara Collier, RDN, LDN, CNSC
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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Dan Zavorotny is the founder and COO of NutriSense. Dan and his company are on a mission to personalize nutrition by leveraging Continuous Glucose Monitoring and Machine Learning.

Podcast
59
min
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Low Carb MD Podcast: Kara Collier
Low Carb MD Podcast: Kara Collier

Brian, Tro, and Kara talk about treatment versus prevention, deficiencies in medical education, and the vision and goals of NutriSense.

Podcast
56
min
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Discover Your Unique Blood Sugar Patterns to Optimize Health with Continual Glucose Monitoring
Discover Your Unique Blood Sugar Patterns to Optimize Health with Continual Glucose Monitoring

Welcome to Low Carb Conversations with Leah Williamson, Holly Jean Barrett and Amber Horn, Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioners.

Podcast
75
min
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Carlee Hayes, RDN: CGM Data & Metabolic Health
Carlee Hayes, RDN: CGM Data & Metabolic Health

Carlee Hayes, lead dietitian for Nutrisense, discusses how the data gained from wearing a CGM can lead to better metabolic health.

Podcast
31
min
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LLAMA LIVE! Carbs, wearable technology and a bagel
LLAMA LIVE! Carbs, wearable technology and a bagel

Wearable technology has evolved at a pace recently, making it possible to better understand how our bodies respond to food and exercise.

Podcast
43
min
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Carlee Hayes: Why continuously monitor our glucose?
Carlee Hayes: Why continuously monitor our glucose?

Real-time information about how our bodies respond to food and exercise is transforming preventative healthcare.

Podcast
62
min
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Blood Glucose Regulation: A Guide to Glycemic Index, Continuous Glucose Monitoring, & Intermittent Fasting · Kara Collier, RDN
Blood Glucose Regulation: A Guide to Glycemic Index, Continuous Glucose Monitoring, & Intermittent Fasting · Kara Collier, RDN

Kara Collier, the Director of Nutrition at Nutrisense, is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Nutrition Support Clinician who specializes in glucose control and...

Podcast
42
min
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My Blood Sugar Trends!
My Blood Sugar Trends!

Nutrisense hooked up Shanna Hussin, RDN with continuous glucose monitoring as a tool to see trends in food response, stress, sleep, and exercise.

Podcast
57
min
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Continuous Glucose Monitors: Why They’re Not Just for Diabetics Anymore with Kara Collier
Continuous Glucose Monitors: Why They’re Not Just for Diabetics Anymore with Kara Collier

In this episode, Kara talks about blood sugar levels and explains why CGMs (continuous glucose monitors) are useful for everyone and not just diabetics.

Podcast
70
min
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Blood sugar balance, weight loss, metabolic health and continuous glucose monitoring
Blood sugar balance, weight loss, metabolic health and continuous glucose monitoring

In this episode, Ellie interviews Kara Collier is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Nutrition Support Clinician with a background in clinical nutrition...

Podcast
53
min
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How Continuous Glucose Monitoring Can Lead to Health-Conscious Behavioral Change
How Continuous Glucose Monitoring Can Lead to Health-Conscious Behavioral Change

Curious how continuous glucose monitoring can lead to significant behavioral change? Kara Collier of NutriSense discusses how this happens with Heads Up founder Dave Korsunsky.

Podcast
58
min
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Continuous Glucose Monitors for Keto & Health Optimizations w/Kara Collier of NutriSense
Continuous Glucose Monitors for Keto & Health Optimizations w/Kara Collier of NutriSense

Learn how continuous glucose monitors can help you obtain metabolic flexibility and Ways to use CGM's to experiment.

Podcast
35
min
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Be your Healthiest Self
Be your Healthiest Self

Carlee Hayes is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and Lead Nutritionist on a mission to help people become the healthiest version of themselves.

Podcast
45
min
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How Nutrisense Can Help You Personalize Your Diet
How Nutrisense Can Help You Personalize Your Diet

In this week’s episode, Nathalie talks to Carlee Hayes about how CGM’s and the Nutrisense app can support individuals to personalize their diet and reach their goals.

Podcast
42
min
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Improving Insulin Resistance, PCOS, and Overall Health with Continuous Glucose Monitors
Improving Insulin Resistance, PCOS, and Overall Health with Continuous Glucose Monitors

In today's episode, Amber talks with Molly, one of the dieticians at Nutrisense, a health technology company that specializes in Continuous Glucose Monitors.

Podcast
56
min
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How To Use A Continuous Glucose Monitor To Master Glucose Response and Avoid Disease: Carlee Hayes
How To Use A Continuous Glucose Monitor To Master Glucose Response and Avoid Disease: Carlee Hayes

We talk about tracking blood glucose and why it's important to see your individual glucose response to meals, stress, exercise, and even during sleep.

Podcast
74
min
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Understanding Blood Glucose Measuring For Fat Loss and More on Keto & Carnivore with Kara Collier
Understanding Blood Glucose Measuring For Fat Loss and More on Keto & Carnivore with Kara Collier

This episode is about how to understand blood glucose numbers for fat loss on Keto & Carnivore with Kara Collier, RDN, CNSC.

Podcast
73
min
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Hack Your Goals with Continuous Blood Glucose Monitoring (CGM)
Hack Your Goals with Continuous Blood Glucose Monitoring (CGM)

Achieve Your Goals with Continuous Blood Glucose Monitoring: Kara Collier, RDN, LDN, CNSC. Nutrisense Director of Nutrition.

Kara is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist (LDN), and Certified Nutrition Support Clinician (CNSC) who specializes in glucose control and metabolism. She graduated from Purdue University and previously worked at Memphis VA Medical Center, as a clinical dietitian at Providence Hospital, and in a management role at Nutritionix.

Podcast
76
min
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The Power of Monitoring Glucose Levels with Kara Collier
The Power of Monitoring Glucose Levels with Kara Collier

Kara Collier is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Nutrition Support Clinician with a background in clinical nutrition, nutrition technology, and entrepreneurship.

Podcast
73
min
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The Power of Monitoring Glucose Levels
The Power of Monitoring Glucose Levels

Kara Collier is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Nutrition Support Clinician with a background in clinical nutrition, nutrition technology, and entrepreneurship. After becoming frustrated with the traditional healthcare system, she helped start the company NutriSense where she is now the Director of Nutrition. Kara is the leading authority on the use of continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) technology, particularly in non-diabetics for the purposes of health optimization, disease prevention, and reversing metabolic dysfunction. Kara oversees the health team and product development and has personally interpreted thousands of complex glucose datasets.

Podcast
58
min
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Optimizing Health Through Continuous Glucose Monitoring
Optimizing Health Through Continuous Glucose Monitoring

Metabolic health involves staying within a controlled glucose level and avoiding repeated “swings” in your glucose levels.

Podcast
50
min
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Continuous Glucose Monitors for healthy individuals looking to improve their glucose stability
Continuous Glucose Monitors for healthy individuals looking to improve their glucose stability

Information from Kara Collier about glucose and sleep: how are those two things connected, and what can we glean from monitoring this area related to improving sleep?

Podcast
48
min
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Optimizing Your Health Using NutriSense Continuous Glucose Monitoring with Carlee Hayes
Optimizing Your Health Using NutriSense Continuous Glucose Monitoring with Carlee Hayes

In this episode, Dr. Renee is joined by Lead Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Nutrisense Continuous Glucose Monitoring, Carlee Hayes, as they take a deep dive into monitoring

Podcast
45
min
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The Lowdown on the NutriSense Continuous Glucose Monitor
The Lowdown on the NutriSense Continuous Glucose Monitor

Listen in to hear the breakdown on who this CGM is good for, who it’s NOT good for, and how it can be a beneficial step to help some who are looking to take their established healt

Podcast
42
min
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What Glucose Data Says About Your Health
What Glucose Data Says About Your Health

In this episode, we sit down with Kara Collier from NutriSense to discuss continuous glucose monitors (CGM).

Podcast
41
min
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The Change Maker! Kara Collier on The Surprising Benefits of Healthy Blood Sugar Levels
The Change Maker! Kara Collier on The Surprising Benefits of Healthy Blood Sugar Levels

The latest in nutrition, exercise, and dietary supplements. Guests include world record holders, documentary film makers, best selling authors, and health experts from all...

Podcast
34
min
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NutriSense Discusses CGMs on Nourish Balance Thrive Podcast
NutriSense Discusses CGMs on Nourish Balance Thrive Podcast

Kara from NutriSense joins the Nourish Balance Thrive Podcast with Christopher Kelly to explain why everyone should wear a CGM at least once

Podcast
27
min
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NutriSense is the very best
NutriSense is the very best

Dan and Kara from Nutrisense talk to Kyle Kingsbury about all things health and CGM technology.

Podcast
23
min
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Tips to Balance Blood Sugar and Optimize Metabolic Health - Part 2
Tips to Balance Blood Sugar and Optimize Metabolic Health - Part 2

Welcome to the second part of our metabolic health episode! Here you’ll learn more strategies to support your insulin and blood sugar levels.

Podcast
20
min
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Rusty Humphries Weight Loss - lessons learned
Rusty Humphries Weight Loss - lessons learned

On this episode of The Nisha Jackson Podcast, Nisha talks with co-host Rusty Humphries about his successful weight loss journey of 30+ pounds and improving.

Podcast
22
min
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NutraCast: NutriSense on glucose monitoring
NutraCast: NutriSense on glucose monitoring

NutraCast's Danielle Masterson speaks with NutriSense Director of Nutrition, Kara Collier, on the benefits of Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) technology and the NutriSense app.

Podcast
18
min
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NutriSense CEO Alex Skryl on Bootstrapping In America
NutriSense CEO Alex Skryl on Bootstrapping In America

Some of the most interesting stories around are from entrepreneurs willing to take an idea and turn it into a business...

Podcast
14
min
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STOP making losing weight so hard!
STOP making losing weight so hard!

We will dive into how to not make every attempt at weight loss so hard, it really shouldn't be… and you truly have the control over this.⠀

Podcast
24
min
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14 Weight loss tips
14 Weight loss tips

14 tips to help you get the weight loss momentum going and provide you with a guide to lose weight and keep it off.⠀

Podcast
54
min
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Can Continuous Glucose Monitoring Support Your Health Goals?
Can Continuous Glucose Monitoring Support Your Health Goals?

Blood glucose holds keys to many important health markers including metabolic health, insulin levels, and our risk for chronic disease.

Podcast
57
min
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Learn to Better Regulate Blood Sugar All Day Long
Learn to Better Regulate Blood Sugar All Day Long

We're back with a brand new interview on our Conversations with Cabral podcast that centers on the topic on of controlling blood sugar for maximum body transformation and wellness results!   I’ve invited Kara Collier, co-founder of NutriSense, to share what she has learned from thousands of customers’ data wearing continuous glucose monitors…   For all the details on learning how to better regulate blood sugar all day long tune into today’s #CabralConcept 2099 - Enjoy the show and let @KaraCollier1 and me know what you thought in the comments!