One of the most challenging aspects of having diabetes is managing your blood sugars. Low blood sugars are a concern for people who take insulin or certain types of diabetes pills. High blood sugars are equally concerning, as they can leave you feeling poorly and can raise the risk of diabetes complications later on.
What is a blood sugar spike?
Have you ever eaten a meal and checked your blood sugar a couple of hours later only to find that your blood sugar has sky-rocketed? If so, you’ve experienced a blood sugar spike. The American Diabetes Association recommends that, in general, people who have diabetes keep their blood sugars between 80 and 130 mg/dl before meals, and less than 180 mg/dl two hours after meals. (Your own blood sugar goals may be different, however, so it’s important that you talk with your healthcare provider about what’s best for you.) While it might not be possible to keep your blood sugars in those ranges all the time, it’s understandable that you might feel frustrated and discouraged when your blood sugars are consistently higher than your target.
How can you stop the spike?
If your blood sugars aren’t where you and your healthcare provider would like them, it’s time to find out why and take action. Here’s what to try:
- Take your diabetes medications as prescribed. That means taking the right amount at the right time. Insulin and many types of diabetes pills are meant to be taken before you eat a meal. If you forget to take them altogether, or take them after you’ve eaten, you’ll see your blood sugars climb. But what if you’re taking your medicine as directed and you’re watching your food intake but your blood sugars are still too high after a meal? It’s likely a sign that your diabetes medication regimen needs some tweaking – you might need a higher dose and/or you might need a different type of medicine. Have a discussion with your healthcare provider about your medication options and what might work best for you.
- Count your carbohydrates (and make your carbs count). Carb counting is a meal planning approach that involves counting the amount of carb in your meal. In carb counting you either keep the amount of carb consistent or, if you take insulin, you match your mealtime insulin dose to the amount of carb that you plan on eating. In theory, carb counting is easy. In reality, it can be quite tricky, and unless you know exactly what and how much you’re eating, carb counting can be a guessing game. There are tools that can help, however. First, take time to measure out your portions of carb foods, such as rice, pasta and cereal, using a measuring cup. Weigh your bread and fruit on a scale. Read the Nutrition Facts label for serving size and total carb grams. Use a carb counting app, website or book for foods that don’t have labels. Meet with a dietitian to determine the right amount of carb for you for each of your meals and snacks, and aim to be as consistent as you can.
- Eat foods high in fiber. High fiber foods include whole grain foods, such as whole wheat bread and pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds. For people with diabetes, high fiber foods can help prevent your blood sugars from climbing too high after meals. An added bonus, fiber is filling, so you may find that you eat less overall.
- Time your activity. Being physically active is a key part of managing diabetes. In particular, physical activity helps the cells in your body take up glucose from the blood stream; it also helps insulin work better. End result? Lower blood sugars. Timing your workouts for after meals can help prevent blood sugar spikes (especially if you eat more carb than usual). However, keep in mind that the best time to exercise is the time that works best for you!
- Get a handle on stress. All of us have stress in our lives and it can be hard to get a handle on it. When it comes to diabetes, stress can raise levels of certain hormones that cause high blood sugars. That’s why it’s so important to find ways to better deal with stress. What can you do? Try exercise, yoga, meditation, deep breathing, getting plenty of rest, or spending time with family and friends.
- Go to sleep. Not getting enough sleep can wreak havoc on your blood sugars, never mind your overall health. Make sleep a priority and aim for about 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. If you have trouble sleeping, try these good sleep practices: turn down the thermostat, power off the electronics, darken your room, and invest in a good mattress and pillow. Also, consider asking your doctor for a sleep study if you can’t fall asleep or if you wake up repeatedly during the night.
Blood sugar spikes can be stopped, but you’ll need to check your blood sugars regularly to help learn what causes them for you. Consider trying continuous glucose monitoring (CGM), which provides glucose readings every five minutes. CGM has traditionally been approved for people with type 1 diabetes; however, more people with type 2 diabetes, especially those who take insulin, are now getting insurance coverage for CGM. Your healthcare provider’s office might also have “loaner” CGM devices that you can try.