You might have had diabetes for years or have been diagnosed pretty recently, but it's likely you know just how fickle your blood sugar levels can be! Although what you eat is a big impact on your blood sugar, it's not just what you eat that can affect them.
It might sound like a strange one, but hear us out.
The physical pain of sunburn can impact your blood sugar because any stress on your body can cause them to rise. You're also more likely to get dehydrated in the heat, which again causes stress on your body increasing blood sugar levels.
Some medications for diabetes like Sulfonylureas can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. This means people on these medications can sunburn quicker than people who don't take these types of medications.
2. Sugar-free sweeteners
It might seem like the whole point of artificial sweeteners is to allow people to enjoy sweet treats without the affects that sugar has on the body.
While they can be better for your health than eating large quantities of sugar, there is some evidence to suggest that some artificial sweeteners can impact your blood sugar.
In one study, participants who were given Sucralose had 20% higher blood insulin levels than participants who were given water. Scientists believe that it is the sweet taste itself that causes the rise in insulin which is known as ‘cephalic phase insulin release’.
However, the jury is still out on artificial sweeteners. So while they’re not something you should be eating at every meal, it certainly doesn’t mean that people with diabetes should have a sugar or sweetener free diet.
3. Poor sleep
Despite the fact it’s not something you eat or drink, sleep deprivation can have a major impact on blood sugar levels. In one large study of 4000 people, those who got less than 6 hours sleep each night were twice as likely to be less sensitive to insulin, or even have diabetes. People who get less sleep are more likely to have poor eating habits,
While most people don’t get enough sleep, this doesn’t tell us the full story. For reasons that aren’t quite understood, people who get too much sleep - that is 9 hours or more also have a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Most people should be aiming for around 7 to 9 hours a night.
4. Time of day
Ever heard of the ‘dawn phenomenon’? Even if you went to sleep with a good blood sugar reading, it’s common to wake up with a high blood sugar reading. In the early hours of the morning, the body releases a cocktail of hormones in preparation for waking up. These can contribute to higher blood sugar levels.
If you notice it happening there are a few things you can do. You can try going easy on the carbohydrates at bedtime, adjusting the dose of your medication or insulin, or adjusting the time you take your medication or insulin - but make sure you speak to a doctor before you do this!
5. Your monthly cycle
You might have noticed by now that things that can affect hormones are things that can affect your blood sugar. Low mood, food cravings, tiredness are classic symptoms of being on your period - and they are all things that can increase your blood sugar too. As your levels of estrogen and progesterone increase the week before your period, your blood sugar increases.
That’s not the only blood sugar spike you might see in your monthly cycle. Blood sugar also spikes during ovulation. This should only be for a brief period, around 2 or 3 days. Some menstruating people need to increase their insulin doses during this period - speak to your doctor if you think that you might need to do this.
It’s easy to assume that when people say coffee raises their blood sugar, they’re talking about a frappe packed with sugar, not a black coffee.
But if you have diabetes, there’s some evidence that caffeine can actually further raise your blood sugar. One study showed that people who took a 250 mg caffeine pill (that’s equivalent to two cups of coffee) at breakfast, and another at lunch showed 8% higher blood sugar readings on days they had no caffeine. Obviously, that’s a lot of coffee.
This doesn't mean that people with diabetes have to give up coffee though. Try sticking to one cup a day in the morning and monitor your blood sugar. If you think it’s having an affect on your blood sugar, try drinking decaf. While you’re missing out on the caffeine, you might be able to trick yourself into thinking you’re still getting a hit of caffeine.