How can I help my father deal with the "dawn phenomenon," or high blood sugar on awakening?

8 answers | Last updated: Dec 04, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My father has type 2 diabetes and struggles with high blood sugar levels when he gets up in the morning -- hyperglycemia when he wakes up, or what he calls the "dawn phenomenon." What's going on and what can I do to help him?


Expert Answers

Theresa Garnero is clinical nurse manager of Diabetes Services at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco.

The dawn phenomenon, named after the time of day it occurs, is the result of the body's response to hormones typically released between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m., which cause glucose levels to rise. This process occurs in everyone, but people with diabetes, like your dad, may not have enough insulin in their system to keep this added glucose under control. So the end result can be hyperglycemia, a blood glucose level that is unhealthily high, occurring when your dad wakes up and before he eats. This is often referred to as fasting blood glucose -- the level of glucose in the blood after at least eight hours without food or calorie-containing fluids.

Your father isn't necessarily doing anything wrong. In fact, the dawn phenomenon may largely be out of his control. But there are steps you and he can take to help remedy the problem. Start by keeping good track of your dad's glucose numbers to help detect any patterns. Then discuss your results with his healthcare provider, who will have advice about how to best handle the dawn phenomenon. For instance, if your father's fasting blood sugar is high, but the rest of the day it's normal, then his healthcare provider may simply suggest a watchful waiting approach.

However, if your dad's blood glucose is out of his target range all day, his provider will likely recommend changes to his treatment plan. If your dad is experiencing sleep deprivation due to pain, depression, or some other ailment -- which can all raise blood sugar to unacceptable levels -- then his doctor will likely want to address these underlying conditions first.

Other possible ways to address the dawn phenomenon:

  • It may be that your father's medicine regimen needs adjusting.
  • Your father may be able to control his morning hyperglycemia by modifying his diet. For some people, eating dinner earlier does the job, as long as it's followed by a small snack prior to bedtime. For others, having a protein-and-fat snack such as nuts or cheese (and limiting carbohydrates) before bedtime can help. And, as counterintuitive as it sounds, eating breakfast can also limit the dawn phenomenon's effect by signaling to your father's body to turn off the hormones that cause highs in the first place.
  • Sometimes exercising later in the day has a glucose-lowering effect during the night.

It may take some trial and error to figure out what strategy works best for your dad to beat the dawn phenomenon. In the meantime, regular blood glucose monitoring is key. So encourage your father to check his blood sugar regularly and keep a record of his numbers.


Community Answers

Nilopher answered...

Does an acidic food like green apples or vinegar can help as I have been reading about it?


Torri answered...

Hello anonymous... about your father's Dawn Phenomenon... eating a green apple worked for me. Droped my sugar level to 103 the next morning. I am not a diabetic, but monitor myself because of family history. This "Dawn Phenonomen" issue came up for me also....so I searched the net to find out what i could do about it. Another thing that worked for me was taking Cider Vinegar capsuls by NOW brand, #3316 at bed time...I took 4 caps, because I had no Cider Vinegar to drink at the time. I probably would have taken 2 or 3 tabelspoons in a half glass of water, ( so the capsules would bypass the taste.) Also I just recieved Hi-maize in the mail today. I ordered it from www.honeyvillegrain.com , as I read on another forum that it controls the Dawn Phenomenon issue. In a search box , type in Hi-maize flour to help control "Dawn Phenomenon" and they will tell you how to use it. Hope this helps, and FYI my first recourse is to pray and ask for God's help in everything, and then do my best. T.


A fellow caregiver answered...

Tim Ferriss, author of 4 hour body, mentioned eating a spoonful of Cashew Butter before bed can help to stabilize blood sugar through the night! Dr Oz mentioned a spoon of white vinegar before meals can help prevent spikes in blood sugar.


Jimp answered...

I have tried everything to offset dawn effect .No results.I get up at 6 AM 105 by 8AM I am 152 with no food. Even tried insulin at 5 AM Good luck, let me know if you find anything


Mimulusman answered...

Hello, JimP, My hunch is that some physical activity first thing in the morning might keep your blood glucose from rising so high. If your muscles burnt the sugar for energy, perhaps there might not be so much in your blood by 8.


Shirlb answered...

JimP, sounds crazy, but try eating first thing in the am, something low carb or no carb. Works for me. I like egg beaters and low sodium V8, maybe some veggies mixed in with the eggs.


Drysnymphe answered...

I shut dow my morning bg climb today by immediately eating 1 oz cheddar with a spread of 1 T single-ingredient sour cream and 32 oz water. I climbed a single point this morning instead of the 20 minimum I was used to. So, I haven't figured out the magic formula to prevent a waking high but at least I was able to keep it from getting worse!