Have you ever noticed that certain activities have a swift and obvious impact on your blood sugar levels?
Well, if you aren’t a person with diabetes, then the answer to that is probably “no”…but I digress! Recently, I realized that there are five things that absolutely, definitely, without-a-doubt make my blood sugar plummet before long. Here’s my list – what’s on yours?
1 – Vacuuming. I live in a fairly small condo – less than 900 square feet total – but when it comes time to vacuuming the floor, it takes me a good chunk of time to do a thorough job. Maybe about 30 minutes total. So it shouldn’t be surprising that by the time I’m done, I’m normally a little sweaty and often in need of a snack because all that moving around has made my blood sugar drop.
2 – Baking. This might be surprising because I’m the type of baker who must lick the spoon and sample the finished product as soon as it’s done, so you might assume that this activity makes my blood sugar go up. Not so. And this is because I am also what I call a “frantic baker”. I shuffle around the kitchen, rifle through cabinets, curse when I can’t find an ingredient and need to rush out to the store to get it…now you must get the idea. I’m always in motion when I’m baking, which pays off in the end. I need to try my baked goods in order to boost blood sugar that went low in the process of creating them. This is one of the many reasons why I love baking!
3 – Playing with my puppy. Little Miss Violet is four months old now and more rambunctious than ever. She loves fetching, running, chasing…and nine times out of ten, I’m fetching, running, and chasing right along with her. Before too long, Violet’s winded and on her way to dreamland while I’m on my way to the kitchen to grab something that will treat my low blood sugar.
4 – Cleaning the bathroom. A self-professed neat freak, I have a very specific process when I’m cleaning the 1.5 bathrooms in my condo. This process probably isn’t the most efficient because it involves a lot of walking up and down the stairs to gather various cleaning supplies, but it does do one thing well: lower my blood sugar, of course.
5 – Walking. This is pretty dang obvious because any sort of physical activity/exercise is bound to make my blood sugar drop, but not in the same way that walking does. I swear that 10-15 minutes of walking at a normal pace is enough to drop my blood sugar by about 100 points – that’s how effective it is for me. Walking is my sneaky little trick when my blood sugar is a tad too high: Instead of taking insulin to correct it, I just have to get a quick walk in and I’m falling fast in no time.
There’s never necessarily a good time to have a low blood sugar: Whenever they happen, they’re bound to be at least a little inconvenient.
But I was thinking about it the other day and it occurred to me that there is most definitely a worst time for a low blood sugar…at least, for me.
And that time is the middle of the night.
I love sleeping, but like many adults, I simply don’t get enough of it. So when something like a low blood sugar interrupts my slumber, it’s downright intrusive and honestly a bit scary, because I always have an underlying fear that I’ll sleep through my Dexcom alarms.
Take a recent middle-of-the-night low blood sugar for example…I was dealing with a lingering low at 1:30 A.M. I’d only been asleep for a couple of hours when I heard my Dexcom sound. I ignored it the first 3 times it went off, but something – my intuition, maybe – told me to roll over and at least check to see the level that my Dexcom was reporting.
I was somewhere in the 60s: low enough that I needed a juice box. I promptly drank it and got settled back under my covers, assuming that I would shoot back up in no time.
Not quite. I don’t know how many minutes later, but I looked at my Dexcom again and it said I was 56. I did the whole “confirm the number with my meter” shtick and ate some glucose gummies to supplement the juice box. I was irritated and my eyes were oh-so-heavy, but from there I forced myself to turn the television on and try to get distracted by a show so I wouldn’t fall back asleep until I knew that my blood sugars were stable again. Before too long, I was heading up, so I did my best to lull myself to sleep, though I tossed and turned for awhile before I finally did drift off.
All in all, I lost about an hour to an hour and a half of sleep because of this one instance! Not all of my lows are like that – sometimes I can fix them in 5 minute flat, other times they keep me up for upwards of two hours – but it doesn’t even really matter. It’s more so the principle of the thing.
Plus, think about how freakin’ ridiculous it is that people with diabetes have to eat something sugary to come up from a low – that in itself isn’t wild, but it IS grating to have to do in the middle of the night when you aren’t hungry and were enjoying a deep sleep. Also…ever try drinking orange juice after you’ve brushed your teeth? It’s unpleasant, to put it mildly.
So you have it: The middle of the night is the absolute worst time for a low blood sugar, in my semi-expert opinion.
There should be an asterisk after this blog title…because this is going to be about the lowest bg that I can really remember and have an actual blood sugar to associate with it.
Let me elaborate…
My real lowest low happened when I was in high school – I got out of bed one morning, stumbled down the stairs, and slurred to my mom that I wanted a bowl of Special K cereal for breakfast (she couldn’t understand what I said and promptly panicked before realizing I must be low). I don’t know what my blood sugar level was that morning because I neglected to do a fingerstick check, but I do know that it was a downright freaky incident that’s cemented in my memory.
But another new incident recently occurred that shook me in a similar way.
It was 1:30 A.M. I was nodding off when I heard my Dexcom alarming. I checked it and was somewhat surprised to see that I was 92 with two double down arrows. (I say “somewhat surprised” because in the earlier evening hours, I spent 3-4 hours chasing a stubborn high blood sugar and definitely wound up stacking insulin doses.)
Even though I wasn’t feeling any low symptoms, I decided to start treating the low. I ate two boxes of mini raisins, equaling about 20 carbs…
…and swiftly grew worried when I saw the number on my Dexcom app to continue to drop.
Okay, let’s have another box of raisins.
Alright, let’s do a fingerstick check.
Sheesh, I’m fumbling around in the dark, trying to locate my meter…
By the time my Dexcom said “LOW”, it was confirmed on my meter that I was, indeed, quite low. 35, to be exact.
And that was a number that frightened me.
Thank goodness I wasn’t alone when I was dealing with this 35 (that wound up lingering for a solid 15-20 minutes before slowly creeping up about 45 minutes after I ate my first box of raisins).
Thank goodness I had someone there to make sure I had plenty of sugar in my system before I fell asleep.
Thank goodness I had a can of regular ginger ale, some Reese’s, Dove chocolates, and popcorn all within arm’s reach (yes, I really did need to eat all those carbs in order to treat this one low).
Obviously, I recovered from this scary low, but it taught me that now that I’m living alone and won’t always have someone around me in the middle of the night, I should start thinking about inviting someone to follow me on the Dexcom app.
The next day, I talked to my parents about what happened and the three of us agreed that my dad will receive notifications if/when my blood sugar drops below 55. I feel a lot better knowing that he has access to my levels and that he knows to contact me if I’m low.
I’m not exactly grateful that I experienced this very low blood sugar…but I do appreciate that it’s reinforced the importance of having a nightstand fully stocked with low treatments as well as making sure that my family has a way of checking in on me when I may need their support.
We all know that 2020 has been a sucky year, so it’s not exactly surprising that immediately following Halloween, the world seemed to throw itself into the holiday spirit.
Between the commercials on TV, Black Friday sales, sparkly decorations, baking galore, and Hallmark movies, the Christmas season kicked off early and with major vivacity. Normally, I’m the kind of person who prefers to enjoy one holiday at a time, and I was somewhat repulsed to see all the Christmas merchandise in stores before Halloween was over.
So even though Thanksgiving hasn’t even come and gone yet, I’ve abandoned any remaining willpower I’ve had to hold off on decorating for Christmas. Like the rest of society, I simply couldn’t hold back my desire for some cheer!
One afternoon last week, I decided to haul up my Christmas tree and its accompaniments from the basement and start the process of decking the halls…
…but my diabetes had other ideas.
I’d just finished assembling my modest tree when I heard my Dexcom alarm sounding off, alerting me to a low blood sugar.
And I hate to admit it, but it didn’t surprise me – I’d felt the oncoming low for about 10 minutes prior.
I just wanted to decorate so badly that I was willing to ignore my blood sugar in order to embrace the Christmas spirit!
Alas, not too long after I heard that alarm, I knew I had to change my priorities as I started to get sweaty and a little woozy…so I left my tree naked and sought out a low treatment, slumping at my table in defeat while I ate it.
My diabetes told me it was too early to decorate for Christmas at that moment in time…
But you know that I told my diabetes otherwise later that night when I spent hours trimming the tree!
‘Tis the season and ain’t no way that my diabetes will prevent me from basking in it.
The thought occurred to me that I should write a blog post on this subject sometime around 3 A.M. after I shoveled a slice of cheddar cheese into my mouth.
Low blood sugars combined with odd hours of the night aren’t foreign to most people with diabetes, but they can be…interesting when you aren’t prepared to handle them with low snacks stashed away in or on your nightstand.
To elaborate, I almost always have a box of raisins or a bottle of glucose tablets sitting on top of the nightstand next to my bed – but there are those times that I run out and forget to replace them.
In those situations, I really have no choice but to eat everything in the kitchen head downstairs and scavenge in the kitchen for something that will bring up my low blood sugar.
Usually, I consume things that make sense – a handful of cereal, a glass of juice, a few marshmallows…whatever the kitchen is stocked with that will work fast. And this is absolutely the best tactic when dealing with a middle-of-the-night low because it helps ensure that I will be able to get back into bed (and hopefully fall asleep) as soon as possible.
But every so often, I go absolutely apeshit in the kitchen and EAT ALL THE THINGS!!!!!!!!!!
Okay, not ALL the things, but definitely way too many things.
I blame it on the fact that my body is in that savage, must-eat-food now mode: Hungry and full cues aren’t a “thing” in that state. So I kind of mindlessly eat junk until the symptoms of my low blood sugar go away. This can take at least 15 minutes, so as you may be able to imagine, I can go overboard with food consumption.
And my choices can get more than a little weird.
Here are the most bizarre food items that I’ve eaten when dealing with a middle-of-the-night low blood sugar. I classify them as “strange” because either 1) they don’t do anything to help low blood sugar because they’re low carb, 2) they’re kind of disgusting, 3) the quantity is odd, or 4) a mix of all of those qualities:
A slice of cheddar cheese (mentioned in this post’s introductory sentence)
About one-third of a Nutella jar (that was so yummy but damn I shudder to think about the calories and fat in that serving)
Too much peanut butter to quantify (please see above comment RE: Nutella)
SUGAR-FREE syrup (emphasis on the sugar-free because WTF was I thinking when I straight up drank two swigs from the bottle)
Exactly three frosted mini wheats (I don’t even LIKE this cereal but I guess in this situation I thought that consuming no more, no less than three was a brilliant idea)
Pickles (not weird at any other time of the day because I love pickles but maybe not the best snack in the early morning hours)
Welp, now my stomach is churning slightly as I think about all the junk I’ve eaten at ungodly hours of the night…if you don’t mind me, I’m off to go restock my low snack supply on my nightstand so I don’t have to make any early-A.M. hour trips to the kitchen any time soon!
For anyone who may be unfamiliar with Baqsimi, it’s a relatively new form of glucagon that comes as a nasal spray. I haven’t had to use it yet (and I hope that I don’t ever have to, really), but there’s a lot of pros to Baqsimi when comparing it to a traditional glucagon kit:
It’s shelf-stable – it doesn’t have to be refrigerated.
It doesn’t expire until 2.5 years from now.
It’s completely ready to go as-is, no mixing or measuring needed.
It’s compact and totally portable.
It’s easy to use (and understand how to use!).
All of those factors contributed to my decision to finally pull the trigger and ask my endocrinologist about writing a prescription for me. It’s not that I’m suddenly worried that I’ll need Baqsimi; for me, it’s more of a peace-of-mind situation. I always thought that my glucagon kit was next to impossible. Sure, I know how to use it, but I have to refresh my memory every so often because there are so many steps involved in the process: inject the syringe into the vial, mix the contents, wait for the glucagon to turn clear, stick the syringe back into the vial, withdraw the liquid, and then finally do the injection…there’s a lot going on there. And if I actually did need glucagon one day due to a severe hypo, I wouldn’t exactly be able to easily walk whoever I was with through the process because I’m sure I’d be totally incapable of doing so (depending on how bad my symptoms were).
It’s just a lot to ask of every single one of my family members and friends to know exactly how to inject glucagon into me in the event I ever needed one of them to do that, so having Baqsimi on hand takes so much of that fear and anxiety away.
And the icing on top of the cake is that it was super easy for me to get Baqsimi…like, it only took a few hours, which is amazing. All I did was reach out to my endocrinologist’s office using their online messaging system, ask my doctor for a script, and…bam. It was sent into my local pharmacy, and before long, I was cruising through the drive-thru with my dog to pick it up. I’m lucky, too, because all I had to pay was $25, thanks to my insurance (sometimes, it’s not as bad as I think it is).
Twenty-five bucks for peace of mind and a life-saving medication…that’s something I can get behind. I’m glad Baqsimi has finally joined my diabetes toolkit.
Anyone who has ever experienced low blood sugar knows that it’s an icky feeling.
The shakiness. The sweating. The desperate desire to eat the entire contents of your kitchen.
It’s an unpleasant experience, but the one thought that has always made low blood sugars slightly more bearable for me is that I have to consume fast-acting, sugary, yummy carbs that are medically necessary. I’ve had some fun with that medically necessary bit in situations over the years: “Hey, stay away from that cupcake, I need it for my blood sugar!”
In any case, I’ve come up with my 10 favorite low blood sugars treatments that I’ve discovered work best for me…and tend to also be pretty tasty (well, maybe not #3, but everything else is a winner for most people in the flavor department).
1. Marshmallows. Even though I feel like I’m playing chubby bunny (you know, that pointless game when you see how many marshmallows you can fit inside your mouth at once and your cheeks puff out like an adorably plump rabbit munching on carrots) any time I consume a marshmallow, I can’t deny that they work incredibly well for low blood sugars. While I don’t mind the flavor of marshmallows, I definitely don’t love it, so I can always resist the temptation to over-correct a low blood sugar when I use marshmallows to treat it.
2. Mini boxes of yogurt-covered raisins. This has been my go-to for almost 10 years now because they’re just so convenient. The mini boxes are highly portable and contain about 11 grams of carbohydrates, which is perfect for not-so-bad lows that just need a little boost.
3. Glucose tablets (or gummies). They’re the old standby for a good reason: They were specifically made for treatment of low blood sugars, and they’re also extremely quick and easy to consume whenever, wherever (cue Shakira and her hips that don’t lie).
4. Frosting. So bad for you, but so good to eat by the spoonful when dealing with low lows. I don’t often have frosting on hand, but if I have some leftover from baking, I’ll throw it in the fridge and try to forget that it exists until I need it for a low blood sugar.
5. Orange juice (or a juice box). I feel like juice was a signature treatment for lows in my childhood: Since small children often drink juice boxes, it made a lot of sense. But back when I was working in an office full-time (sigh), I had a couple of juice boxes stashed away in my desk drawer because I got a kick out of feeling like a little kid with her juice boxes while sitting her grown-ass adult woman’s work cubicle (yes, I know I’m kind of weird. Embrace it.)
6. Starbursts. In college, I met a fellow type 1 in my social psychology lecture hall who swore by carrying starbursts for low blood sugars. She explained that four of them had the exact same amount of carbs as four glucose tablets, but they were far superior in taste because, well, starbursts are candy. I’ve kept this in mind over the years and its come in handy: More than once, I’ve been in a situation where I’ve had to get carbs fast but didn’t have glucose tablets on me, so I bought a sleeve of starburst to treat oncoming lows. They work well and they’re especially delicious when using the pink or the orange starbursts (not the yellow or red…fight me on it).
7. Skittles. What I love about using Skittles for low blood sugars is the 1:1 rule. One Skittle has one carbohydrate, so it’s extremely easy to figure out how many will bring up blood sugar, depending on how low the low is. 10 works well for when I’m in the 70s, whereas I might have 15 when I’m in the 60s. All bets are off when I fall below 60, though, and I’ll settle for a large, uncounted handful – maybe the whole dang bag – instead.
8. A piece of fruit. Ooooh, a genuinely healthy option on this list! The horror! But it’s a fact that fruit works just as well as any piece of candy or sugary treat for bringing up a low. I’m not talking about a single blueberry or strawberry, though: I’m talking either an apple or a banana – something that has some genuine carb content to it in a single serving.
9. A couple handfuls of cereal. This is a riskier choice because the lack of restraint I have around cereal when I’m low, but who else can relate to waking up at 2 A.M. to treat a low and being too tired to measure something out, so out comes the cereal box and handful after handful of Lucky Charms or Cookie Crisp are consumed in a very short span of time?! There’s no questioning cereal’s efficacy in a hypoglycemic situation, but when it comes to controlling the amount eaten…well, that’s a hard thing for me to do.
10. Fruit snacks/gushers. Embarrassing story from my childhood: Remember those commercials in which kids who ate gushers had their heads turn into giant pieces of fruit? Well…I was convinced that eating gushers would lead me to the same fate, so I avoided them until one day I finally realized it was just a stupid commercial (albeit with very freaky graphics) and it was totally safe to consume gushers. And thank goodness, because they’re delicious and great for lows! So are fruit snacks of just about any variety, though I’ve had the most luck with Mott’s and Welch’s fruit snacks.
Do you have any low blood sugar treatments that I didn’t mention here but should consider trying? Drop a comment to let me know what it is and why it’s your favorite!
Peanut butter and jelly. Batman and Robin. Mickey and Minnie. Name an iconic pair, and…
…I can guarantee that it won’t be conference calls and low blood sugars.
Indeed, I can attest to how much the two DON’T belong together because I faced a rather annoying one the other day.
It happened during one of the many weekly meetings that I now attend virtually along with the rest of my department at work. Not only do I have to dial into these meetings, but there is a video component, as well. Fortunately for me, all that I’m doing is listening during these meetings instead of talking, so I can stay on mute for the duration of most of them, and occasionally make various facial expressions that show I’m listening.
So I was, indeed, on mute when the shrill BEEEEEEEEEEEEP BEEPBEEPBEEPBEEP of my CGM receiver started. And thank goodness I was, because that sound is enough to derail anyone’s line of thought.
But rather than address the low right away, I was a little stupid about it.
I decided to wait as long as possible before I corrected it.
I know, I know – that’s a dangerous game to play. But hear me out! My meeting was running from 12:30 to 1:30. I planned on having lunch right after the meeting, and it was already 1 o’clock when my CGM started shrieking. I thought I could wait to treat it with my lunch food…but that’s not what ended up happening.
I started feeling low, low. Like, shaky, sweaty, unable to focus on anything that my group was discussing, and ravenously hungry.
So I did what any person with diabetes would do when their blood sugar is that low – the only thing to be done, of course, was to whip off my head phones, turn off my camera, sprint into the kitchen, wolf down a handful of raisins, and jump back onto the call.
Oh, and turn off the camera again for another 30 seconds or so (in the 15 minute window of time it took for my blood sugar to stabilize) to capture a picture of myself on the struggle bus that is the recovery process from a low.
The whole ordeal stood out to me because it’s very different from the last low that I remember experiencing during a work meeting. That one happened when we were all still in the office, and I had to get up and dismiss myself from the conference room so I could grab a package of fruit snacks from the office kitchen.
That one was much more disruptive, but I handled it much more promptly than this one.
This one wasn’t even noticed by a single person on the conference call (and if someone did see me pop off camera for a moment, I’m sure they just assumed I was having connectivity issues).
This one I didn’t react to immediately, and I ended up being punished for it because I missed out on some meeting information due to my inability to concentrate and the need to finally treat it.
This one and that one do have one thing in common, though: Low blood sugars absolutely do not complement meetings, conference calls, or any sort of work-related task, ever.
I feel a desire to share with the world that I’ve found it.
Erm…what is “it” though?
Why, glucose tablets, of course. Not just any old glucose tabs. I’m talking about glucose tabs that are actually delicious. The kind that are obviously effective and can quickly raise low blood sugar, but that are also so tasty that I sort of want to eat them by the handful out of the jar.
I’ve got your curiosity piqued now, don’t I?
Well, then, I’ll let you in on the secret “holy grail” glucose tabs that I’ve been enjoying…
Spoiler alert: They’re not technically tabs; in fact, they’re gummies.
I’ve written about glucose gummies in the past and it’s safe to say I was fairly underwhelmed by them. They had flavor and texture issues, and ultimately, they were pretty disappointing. I’d counted on them to change the glucose game, but this rendition of Walgreens-brand glucose gummies totally failed to do that.
So a few months ago, when I noticed that Walgreens had given their glucose gummies a makeover, I figured I’d give them one last chance to impress me.
And SWEET SUCCESS, THEY DID IT!
There are some similarities between the old and new gummies; namely, three gummies has 10 carbs…just under the amount of carbs that are usually in three standard glucose tabs. The old and new gummies are both also covered in sugar crystals (I’m not sure if that’s intended to make them look appetizing?). Otherwise, they couldn’t be more different from one another in terms of color, shape (old gummies were ring-shaped, new gummies are kind of gumdrop-shaped), and obviously, palatability.
What’s different about the gummies this time is that they improved on every major complaint I had about the previous version. The best, biggest improvement had to do with texture. Previously, the gummies were stale and difficult to chew quickly. These new gummies are very soft and don’t leave you with that sticky teeth feeling that’s typical of most gummy candies.
The flavors are also much better. Before, the gummy flavors were super artificial tasting. The grape, orange, and apple flavors were almost medicinal and hardly tasted like their genuine counterparts. Now, the gummies still come in three different flavors, but they’re all of the same variety: blueberry, raspberry, and strawberry. The mixed berry combination just works here. There’s no odd after taste and, when eaten together, a three or four gummies at once just tastes like a small handful of conventional gummy candy. Not my personal favorite kind of confection, but it definitely is much more appealing than regular old glucose tablets.
Maybe I’m overselling Walgreens’ glucose gummies version 2.0, but really, after 22 years of diabetes, there are just some things that are worth getting excited about…even if they seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
This post was originally published on Hugging the Cactus on October 8, 2018. I decided to re-up it today because I think we could all use a little reminder that diabetes is different for everyone. Remember…your diabetes may (almost always will) vary.
Previously, I’ve written about what it feels like to have low blood sugar. While many people with T1D feel the same symptoms as me when they experience a low, there are even more who experience a wider variety of emotions and sensations.
Renza, a T1D Twitter friend of mine, did a little investigating into how others would describe what it’s like to have a low blood sugar. She sent a tweet that read:
#Diabetes friends. I’m crowdsourcing (again). If you had to use ONE WORD to describe how hypos/lows feel to you, what would it be. Go!! #Hypoglycaemia
She received nearly 100 responses, which I’ve compiled into the below graphic.
Looking at this word collage is a bit startling because it represents the vast array of feelings associated with low blood sugar. Most of them are negative. A handful of them start with the prefix “dis”, which describes something with an opposing force. A couple of them relate to feelings associated with eating. And just about all of them can be summed up as sensations that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
To me, this graphic serves as a stark reminder that diabetes is more than just a chronic illness that affects the body: It affects the mind, too.