Dawn Phenomenon: A Good Thing for Running With Type 1 Diabetes?


Dawn Phenomenon: Xepon Laos by Peter RimarI’ve been waking up with high blood sugar levels (130-180) most mornings for as long as I can remember (at least as long as I’ve had diabetes). Known as the Dawn Phenomenon, these early morning elevated blood sugar levels are the result of nighttime release of hormones, including growth hormones, cortisol, glucagon and epinephrine – which cause insulin resistance and blood sugar levels to rise.

A few days ago, or nights ago, I found myself waking up every few hours from the noise of the wind. At 3:50 a.m. I woke up and got out of bed again.  The noise of the wind blowing through the trees and against our windows and shudders was so loud that I, in my half-asleep state, was sure it was raining. I quickly got up to close the living room window.  As I began to close it, I realized the street was totally dry and that it wasn’t raining at all. It was just the strong wind.

Being up, I decided to check my blood sugar (I find myself doing this when ever I’m awake at unusual hours). I had gone to sleep 94 and wasn’t sure in which direction I was going. I was very happy to see that I was 102.

I went back to sleep for a couple hours and when I got up a little before 6:00 a.m. to go running, I checked my blood sugar again. This time it was 146. Now that’s the dawn phenomenon for you, I thought to myself.

About to go running, I didn’t mind being 146, but it did piss me off that even after adjusting the basal rate on my pump to combat this phenomenon, I still seem to wake up over 120 most mornings. And the evidence from my pre-dawn test proved I did everything right the night before.

One of the reasons I went on the pump was to combat this problem. I thought the ability to have a different basal rate at different times of the day would definitely solve this issue once and for all.

With the help of my doctor, and then adjusting it again on my own, I’ve set the basal rate on my pump so it increases at midnight from 0.45ml an hour to 0.65ml and then at 2:00 a.m. until 4:30 it increases again to 0.75ml. It has helped, bringing my blood sugar levels down a bit and solved some running issues, but it hasn’t solved it all completely. I know I could increase my basal rate even more but I’m very scared of hypoglycemia.

The one thing that seems to help is cutting out all carbs from my diet, and the next best thing is to eat them early in the day. The problem is that like most people, I eat my big meal of the day is dinner and that happens at night, and usually after 8:00 p.m. (and this is when I usually eat my carbs).

This morning I woke up at 5:30 a.m. to go running. My blood sugar was 164 when I woke up, after going to sleep in the 90s.  But this morning, like many mornings, the dawn phenomenon was actually not a bad thing, since I need my blood sugar to be a little bit elevated before a run. 

But I do wonder what kind of damage the dawn phenomenon is doing to my body, especially on the days I don’t run. 

Essentially, the dawn phenomenon means that my blood sugar is little high, like it often is after a meal, for a relatively short time. 

Is having slightly elevated blood sugar levels terrible for me, if they come down within two hours?  

Right now, rather than feeling frustrated I’m going to think about this in a positive way – maybe the dawn phenomenon is a little gift from my body to help me run with diabetes.  

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