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Discovering Blood Sugar Imbalances: Effects on Energy and Sleep

Colleen Magnani, RDN, CDCES

Published in Glucose

8 min read

January 3, 2022
December 8, 2023
a bag of vegetables and a jar of pasta
a bag of vegetables and a jar of pasta

You may already know that blood sugar levels affect you whether you suffer from diabetes or not, but do you know why? Blood sugar is produced when you eat foods with carbohydrates, and your body breaks those down into glucose to use as fuel [energy]. 

Your blood sugar levels will change throughout the day based on your activity and the foods you consume. Those diagnosed with diabetes are familiar with monitoring and maintaining blood sugar levels regularly, but what if you aren't diabetic? Does it matter?

Yes, it does! Keeping your blood sugar levels in a good range will prevent long-term health effects and keep your body running more efficiently on a day-to-day basis. 

Why Keeping Your Body's Blood Sugar Balanced is Important 

A person cutting a pear in the kitchen

Blood sugar balance is essential because it can affect your energy levels, weight gain/loss, mental performance, and mood. Blood sugar [or glucose] is regulated by hormones called insulin, which is produced by the pancreas. When you consume food or drinks, your blood sugar naturally rises due to the sugars and carbs. Your insulin will then get to work in a big way to maintain your blood sugar levels. 

If you consume too much sugar or too many carbs [that will break down into sugar] too quickly, your body will release too much insulin. This is because your blood sugar levels are rising too fast in these instances. As a result, your blood sugar level will be too low. And in case you didn't already know: when blood sugar levels are too high, you experience what's known as hyperglycemia. When they're too low, you can experience what's known as hypoglycemia

Many seemingly healthy adults experience blood sugar imbalances due to an unbalanced diet and certain lifestyle habits. Maintaining a lifestyle that prevents blood sugar imbalances will help improve your energy levels, sleep, moods, and athletic performance. It can also prevent insulin resistance from developing and keep you from getting various associated chronic conditions.

Signs of a Potential Blood Sugar Imbalance

A person asleep near a glass of water

Your brain needs the right amount of glucose to provide energy to maintain proper body function. It's essential to maintain a steady blood sugar range as your brain could cease to function properly if your levels are too high or too low. A "normal" blood sugar range is between 70 mg/dl and 140 mg/dl.

Clinical hypoglycemia occurs when blood sugar drops below 55 mg/dL and a person has symptoms like tiredness, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, confusion, blurred vision, hunger, shakiness, elevated heart rate, anxiety, and sweating. Remember there is some nuance here—some people can have low blood sugar but be symptom-free. Things like consuming too much or too little sugar can affect this too. Here's a handy chart to help you figure out if this is the case for you: 

Signs You're consuming too much sugar

These are just some symptoms that indicate that you are consuming either too much or too little sugar. Many people with blood sugar imbalances may experience both due to an unbalanced diet. This can lead to swings in-between symptoms that may seem unexplainable until you balance your diet.

Signs That you aren't consuming enough sugar

Want to know why certain symptoms of blood sugar imbalances occur? Here's a little more about some of the most common symptoms of frequent blood sugar imbalances:

Anxiety, Depression, and Moodiness

Do you feel anxious or depressed regularly? Is your mood suddenly up-and-down, but you can't tell why? Your brain is fueled by glucose, so it makes sense that it can react poorly when you don't give it enough fuel (or overfuel it with excess sugars). Glycemic regulation has been shown to have links with mental health symptoms. Depression, irritability, and anxiety are all symptoms that are related to glucose regulation.

By regulating the glucose in your body, you may find that those symptoms go away. Dietary and lifestyle changes may help with some of these symptoms. However, if you're struggling to manage your mental health, it's a good idea to consult a healthcare professional. 

Struggling to Lose Weight / Seeing Excess Fat Around The Belly

A person holding tummy flab

When your blood sugar levels are imbalanced, you may struggle to lose weight or begin to gain weight. Both low blood sugar and high blood sugar can result in weight gain. When your blood sugar is frequently too low, your body will begin to store fat and sugar. You may also start to crave carbs and sugary foods more often.

When your blood sugar is frequently too high, your insulin works in overdrive. Essentially, your cells are receiving more glucose than they need. As your body works to store those nutrients and fuel sources, you may discover that you have an increased appetite.

Experiencing Sugar Cravings

We've already told you how blood sugar or glucose is one of your body's primary fuel sources. Your body depends on it for everyday functions. Low blood sugar often leads to sugar cravings because your body isn't getting enough fuel to properly function. As a result, your brain will overcompensate and tell you that you need more sugar than you really do. 

Experience Fatigue or a High After Eating Carbs

blueberries in a wooden dish, next to a wooden board with raspberries and blueberries

Foods rich in carbohydrates can often lead to a sleepy post-meal feeling. Carbohydrates directly break down into sugar, which releases a chemical called serotonin. Serotonin is an essential chemical that your brain releases to make you feel happy. 

Uncontrollable Hunger or "Hanger"

Low blood sugar levels directly affect your brain. As a result, your brain may release hormones such as cortisol or adrenaline. Your brain does this to raise your blood sugar levels and rebalance your body. So while "hangry" may be a trendy term, the feeling it's derived from is actually a chemical reaction caused by your brain due to low blood sugar levels.

Factors that Impact Your Body's Ability to Balance Blood Sugar

A person holding a cheeseburger next to a plate with a cheeseburger and a box of pepperoni pizza

These are some of the factors that will impact your body's ability to properly balance its blood sugar levels:

  • Being overweight: Having too much visceral fat in your body may prevent the insulin you create from working improperly. This may lead to the long-term effect of insulin resistance. 
  • Having an unbalanced diet: Having a diet that is either too high or too low in carbs and sugars can lead to prolonged periods of blood sugar imbalance.
  • Stress [prolonged stress in particular]: Prolonged periods of stress may cause a hormone release that elevates your blood sugar levels. 
  • Nutrient deficiencies [think: Vitamin D, magnesium, chromium]: Vitamin deficiencies have been linked to diabetes. If you are not getting the recommended amount of vitamins in your diet, you can consider supplements. Remember to consult with your doctor before adding any supplements to your diet.
  • Living an inactive lifestyle: Physical activity can lower blood sugar for up to 24 hours after exercise. If your blood sugar is too high and you don't have a set exercise routine, you should consider creating one. 
  • Unreliable sleep schedules: When you sleep, your body takes that time to reset your hormone levels. If you don't get enough sleep, your brain may be led to compensate for your lack of energy by consuming more sugar. 

How to Test For Imbalances

A person scanning a Nutrisense CGM on her arm with a smartphone

There are several different ways to monitor and test your blood sugar levels, and here are some of the most common:

Blood Glucose Meter

Blood glucose meters often come to mind first when thinking about testing your blood sugar levels. This device requires you to pick a finger and place a sample of blood on a test strip. 

Continuous Glucose Monitor

Continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) may be the most accurate and thorough way to begin understanding any blood sugar imbalances that you may have throughout the day. CGM's are applied to your skin and stay on for about two weeks, reading your blood glucose levels every few minutes. With the Nutrisense CGM, you can see those data points in an innovative app that helps you track and monitor your blood sugar fluctuations all day long.

Urine Test

Urine tests can also be an effective way to test your blood sugar levels. You will need to put a test strip into a urine sample. This method is one of the least reliable methods of testing your blood sugar levels. It can also be one of the most inconvenient due to the need for a fresh urine sample. 

A1C Test

An A1C test is a test done in a laboratory. Your doctor will take a blood sample, and the lab will then analyze the results for you.

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Engage with Your Blood Glucose Levels with Nutrisense

Your blood sugar levels can significantly impact how your body feels and functions. That’s why stable blood glucose levels can be an important factor in supporting overall wellbeing.

With Nutrisense, you’ll be able to track your blood glucose levels over time using a CGM, so you can make lifestyle choices that support healthy living.

When you join the Nutrisense CGM program, our team of credentialed dietitians and nutritionists are available for additional support and guidance to help you reach your goals.

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Carlee Hayes, RDN, CD

Reviewed by: Carlee Hayes, RDN, CD

Carlee's training at Western Illinois University and an internship at the Memphis VA Hospital lead her to a career in outpatient counseling and bariatric nutrition therapy. In these positions, Carlee realized many of the disease states (upwards of 80%!) her patients experienced were actually preventable. She knew she had to dig deeper into preventative health and has since been passionate about helping people translate this complex glucose data into actionable changes anyone can implement into their everyday lives.

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