For people taking insulin for diabetes, blood sugar levels are often elevated in the morning. This is likely caused by inadequate amounts of NPH/Lente insulin before dinner or at bedtime. High morning blood sugar is referred to as either the dawn phenomenon or the Somogyi effect.
Dawn phenomenon. The dawn phenomenon is the end result of a combination of natural body changes that occur during the sleep cycle and can be explained as follows. Between 3 and 8 a.m., your body starts to increase the amounts of counter-regulatory hormones (growth hormone, cortisol, and catecholamines). These hormones work against insulin's action to drop blood sugars. The increased release of these hormones, at a time when bedtime insulin is wearing out, results in an increase in blood sugars. These combined events cause your body's blood sugar levels to rise in the morning.
Somogyi effect. This condition is named after the doctor who first wrote about it. It is also called "rebound hyperglycemia." Although the cascade of events and end result -- high blood sugar levels in the morning -- is the same as in the dawn phenomenon, the cause is more "man-made" in the Somogyi effect (a result of poor diabetes management). The term refers to pattern of high morning sugars preceded by an episode of hypoglycemia (usually with no symptoms, but night sweats can be a sign). Your blood sugar may drop too low in the middle of the night, so your body counters by releasing hormones to raise the sugar levels. This could happen if you took too much insulin earlier or if you did not have enough of a bedtime snack.
Which of the 2 Conditions Is Causing the High Blood Sugar Levels?
To determine which of the two above conditions is causing your high blood sugar level, your doctor will likely ask you to check your blood sugar levels between 2 and 3 a.m. for several consecutive nights. If your blood sugar is consistently low during this time, the Somogyi effect is suspected (too much nighttime insulin or too small of a bedtime snack for the insulin given). If the blood sugar is normal or high during this time period, the dawn phenomenon (increases in counter-regulatory hormone) is more likely to be the cause.
How Can Morning High Blood Sugar Be Corrected?
Once you and your doctor determine how your blood sugar levels are behaving during the nighttime hours, he or she can advise you about the changes you need to make to better control them. Options that your doctor may discuss include:
Changing the time you take the long-acting insulin in the evening so that its peak action occurs when your blood sugars start rising
Changing the type of insulin you take in the evening
Taking extra insulin overnight if you find that overnight your blood sugars are progressively elevated. Here, the additional insulin would help lower high morning blood sugars.
Switching to an insulin pump, which can be programmed to release additional insulin in the morning
Get the latest Diabetes newsletter delivered to your inbox!
Your level is currently
If the level is below 70 or you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.
People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.
Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.
However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.
Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.
Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.
One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.
Thank you for signing up for the WebMD Diabetes Newsletter!
You'll find tips and tricks as well as the latest news and research on Diabetes.
Did You Know Your Lifestyle Choices
Affect Your Blood Sugar?
Use the Blood Glucose Tracker to monitor
how well you manage your blood sugar over time.