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Lifestyle factors driving glucose level highs and lows

Living a balanced lifestyle with a healthy diet and regular exercise is a key part of diabetes management. But do you sometimes feel puzzled when you’re doing all the right things, yet your glucose level still swings? Get a better understanding of the unexpected lifestyle factors that could be influencing your glucose levels so you can speak to your diabetes team on how to adjust your treatment to suit your lifestyle.

Lifestyle and glucose level behaviour – everyone’s different

Your glucose levels are affected by a wide range of lifestyle factors. What you eat and drink, your level of activity, how much you sleep, how much stress you experience, the medication you take, and whether you’ve been ill recently, all influence your glucose levels. Some factors are more obvious than others, such as eating regularly and being mindful of the type and amount of carbohydrates you eat, but other lesser known factors could have unexpected effects. They may be more difficult to spot because their effect on glucose levels may differ from person to person; and may also vary from day to day for the same person.

The factors to consider

The “big three” that are arguably the most important for diabetes management, are diet, physical activity and diabetes medication. These have a direct impact on glucose levels for all people with diabetes – and are crucial to consider in any diabetes treatment discussions.

Beyond the big three, there is a long list of other factors that can influence how your glucose behaves. Below we are uncovering some of the more surprising aspects of our everyday lives that can take your glucose levels high or low.

1. The spike from your coffee

When it comes to diet you may already be more careful to avoid anything that would send your glucose soaring – but did you know that caffeine and artificial sweeteners could cause a spike in glucose levels? You wake up feeling groggy, so you reach for the coffee pot (black, no sugar) or have a sugar-free drink to kick-start your day and help you wake up. No matter which one you choose, you don’t think twice about this morning ritual since there’s no sugar involved and therefore little to no carbs. But suddenly you are experiencing a glucose spike. What a lot of people do not know is that some people with diabetes experience spikes in their glucose levels when they have caffeine or artificial sweeteners.

A great way to shed light on these mysterious spikes, is to keep track of your glucose and insulin levels, as well as keeping a record of what you eat and drink. In this way you’ll see if there is a link between the spike in your glucose level and your morning wake-up routine.

2. Dehydration drives up your glucose levels

Exercise along with diet, are the two major tools used in diabetes management. Regular activity helps your body regulate glucose levels. The more active you are, the more sensitive your cells become to insulin – which makes the insulin work better in managing glucose levels.

Glucose levels can fluctuate during exercise depending on the type, intensity, and the duration of the exercise.

If you exercise regularly, you may have come to know how to predict its effect on your glucose levels. However, what you may not realise while you are sweating it out on the treadmill, is that dehydration can increase your glucose levels. Also being dehydrated makes you tired and feel drained. Next you hit the gym, make sure you stay hydrated by keeping a bottle of water with you. How much water you need per day will differ from other people, so it is best to discuss it with your
 diabetes team.

3. Good sleep for stable glucose levels

Life can be hectic. The demands of work, being there for friends and family, and the need for exercise and relaxation can take up a lot of your time. It’s no wonder that making adequate time for sleep often gets left out. Loss of sleep leads to your body using insulin less efficiently.

Fasting glucose levels have been found to be higher in those who sleep for less than 6 hours per night compared to those who sleep 7-8 hours per night.

It’s normal to have a glucose level surge in the morning to supply the body with energy for the day. However, if you have diabetes your body won’t release insulin to match this rise, causing your glucose level to spike.

If you are tracking your sleep patterns, glucose level and insulin dosing, you and your diabetes care team can assess whether you need to eat a snack, avoid carbs before going to bed, take your medication before bed instead of in the morning, or to simply go to bed earlier.

4. Stress can spike your glucose level

Life can be stressful at times. What you may not realise is that stress, in a variety of forms, even sunburn, can also impact your glucose levels. When you are stressed or you have an infection such as a cold, your body will send out hormones and sugars to prepare for a stress response or to fight off the infection. When you have diabetes, any stressful situation can lead to a spike in your glucose level.

Any stressful situation can lead to a spike in your glucose level.

Keeping track of it all

It would be impossible to measure and control all the factors that can impact your glucose level. Keeping a close eye on your glucose levels alone throughout the day can be challenging enough along with all other things happening. Luckily, technology is continuing to make the task of tracking easier. Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) and Flash Glucose Monitoring (FGM) can keep track of glucose developments, and an array of mobile applications have made it easier to log and track factors such as diet, exercise or sleep.

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