Sleep Interrupted? The Blood Sugar and Sleep Connection

In my last newsletter, I wrote about how most people with sleep trouble think they have too much energy and simply can’t settle down. I also discussed that one of the main causes of insomnia is actually a deep level of exhaustion. Odd as it may seem, the body needs energy to calm or sedate itself for sleep. Without energy, we stay awake, “wired and tired.”

The second most common cause of insomnia is a silent blood sugar issue that affects one third of Americans. The worst part is, a shocking 90% of people are unaware of this problem until it is too late! (1)

Could you or someone you know be suffering from blood-sugar-related insomnia? Keep reading to learn the facts about this troubling, little-known sleep issue.

First Comes Stress, Then Come Cravingssleep disorder cookies and milk image

Sleep disorders affect an estimated 50-70 million Americans and, as I discussed in my last newsletter, much of this is caused by stress and exhaustion. When under stress, the adrenals go shopping for energy. Their favorite stop is the pancreas, where stress generates insatiable cravings for sweets to create the energy the adrenals can no longer provide.

Before you know it, Americans are waking up to a sugar-laced cup of coffee or two. In an attempt to pick the healthy choice, we might sip green tea to keep us going through the morning. Lunch might be a salad and a diet soda. Then, as the blood sugar starts plummeting, bringing on the all-too-well-known afternoon crash, dark chocolate is passed around the office as if you had called room service. By the end of the workday, either a workout, latte or a nap is the only thing getting us home without falling asleep.

The Band-aid Cure

To remedy this, some of us have adopted a diet that was originally formulated for folks with severe hypoglycemia”the “six small meals a day” diet. The idea behind it being that, if you eat six small meals a day, the body and mind will have a steady flow of fuel and never crash. In a recent newsletter, I discussed my issues with this dietary theory and presented the research debunking this grazing phenomenon.

The High Sugar, Poor Sleep Connection

sleep disorder midnight snack image
It is no wonder folks can’t sleep through the night – they are waking up hungry!

Whether you are one of the many who have been told to eat many small meals a day – or you are a grazer by habit – and have trouble sleeping, let me walk you through the logic of how one affects the other. This will not apply to everybody; read on for variations on the theme.

You eat every 2-3 hours all day (either very intentional healthy meals intended to boost metabolism, or just grazing and snacking out of habit). As a result, your body comes to expect getting fed every 2-3 hours, right? And then you go to bed at the end of the day and expect to sleep through the night for 8-9 hours with no food.

The Good Night, Sleep Tight Fuel

Humans are designed to burn fat through the night because it burns long and slow – in contrast to sugar and carbs which burn quickly – and then break the fat-burning fast with breakfast. Today, because of undetected blood sugar issues, many people never go into fat metabolism during the night at all, instead attempting to burn sugar and carbs through the night as they did during the day. With sugar and short chain carbs delivering only short, quick emergency bursts of energy, sleeping through the night becomes an insurmountable task.

As the amount of sleep decreases, blood sugar increases, escalating the issue. Lack of sleep has been shown to increase blood sugar levels and the risk of diabetes. (2) Higher blood sugar means less long-lasting fat metabolism in the night and even less sleep. See the cycle?

Researchers at Boston University School of medicine found that people who slept less than six hours a night had blood sugar problems compared to those who got eight. This illustrates the cycle of sleep deprivation raising blood sugar, and unstable blood sugar in turn compromising quality sleep.

Beyond Sleep Issues – The Potential Consequences

As a result of less than ample sleep, people wake up tired and reach for that vanilla latte, sending the blood sugar right back up. Without realizing it, cravings for quick energy drinks, bars, breads, pastas and sweets become the norm. This constant surge of sugar and simple carbs puts significant strain on the pancreas. The result is a condition called prediabetes, which affects 1/3 of the American population and, according to the CDC, 90% of those people don’t know it. (1)

In the short term, studies link disturbed sleep with increased cortisol production (a stress hormone) and weight gain. (3)

Here is a list of therapies to support blood-sugar-related sleep issues:

1. Eat three meals a day with no snacks.
2. Eat whole foods – avoid processed foods.
3. Avoid baked goods, simple carbs and starchy veggies.
4. Eat fruits whole and avoid juice.
4. Increase intake of non starchy veggies – eat lots at each meal.
5. Get 1 gram of protein per day for each pound of body weight, just until sleep normalizes.
6. Drink 1/2 of your ideal body weight in ounces of water per day.
7. Read about Brahmi, Ashwagandha and Sleep Easy for sleep support.
8. Read about Beet Cleanse and Sugar Destroyer for blood sugar support.


1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2007) National Diabetes Fact Sheet, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Diabetes Translation. 2. Challem J. Stop Prediabetes Now. Wiley Press, 2007. p. 234.


  1. Brook Mcbride says

    Dr john…I just had a physical and was diagnosed as pre-diabetic. I have had sleep problems for 2 or 3 years. I am a terrible snacker! I rarely eat a full breakfast and am frankly confused on what to do? Where do I start. I’m 53. I’m at the heaviest point of my life so far and am frankly scared that I won’t be able to keep this weight thing off. I wake up exhausted. Have a high stress job….I used to be able to fight some of this with exercise but have gained 5 lbs a year now for the last 7 years and am disturbed by this….what’s a good first step? What’s about breakfast…what should I eat?

    • John Douillard says

      Hi Brook,
      A great place to start is with the free Weight Balancing ebook and the free Blood Sugar Secrets for Health and Longevity ebook available here: These documents are full of gentle lifestyle, diet and herbal suggestions to bring the body back into balance.
      People frequently ask Dr. John what to eat for breakfast. It is a challenging meal because in the U.S., the commonly available foods are high in sugar (like muffins and cereal) or super greasy and low in fiber (like bacon and eggs). Dr. John says to treat breakfast the same as other meals, aiming for 1/2 veggies, 1/4 starch, 1/4 protein on your plate. (Example of a balanced plate: Chicken 1/4, cooked veggies 1/4, yam 1/4, salad 1/4 – olive oil as dressing.) I hope that helps.

  2. Debbie lowrey says

    My 9 year old granddaughter is terrible at sleeping. Often awake at 2 or 3am. Vivid and sometimes disturbing imagination. Her diet is high in sugary carbs, as with most of kids today, and she is on computer screens a lot. Full of high energy during the day, when not at a screen, can’t sit still for long. Doing fine at school. Wired and tired ! What can I suggest to her parents without sounding like I am criticising them?

  3. says

    I went over 8 months sleeping only 4 hours each night. Had a long haul to reverse and heal everything going on, but now sleep solid and am now almost completely down to only eating 3 meals/day with no snacks. This has taken me many steps to get to and experimenting with my diet. I can eat 3 meals a day when I eat plenty of complete protein and enough fat at breakfast and lunch…also eating animal protein (balances insulin and cortisol) within one hour of waking SIGNIFICANTLY lowered my anxiety, which further lowered my stress. Thank you Dr. John!


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