Other than food, these are the 5 sneaky reasons why your blood sugars are high—plus, what to do about it.

For people living with diabetes, blood sugar logs and food diaries are a part of a typical self-management treatment plan. With this tracking, you generally develop a strong understanding of how your body and blood sugars respond to food and movement. But for some reason, from time to time you may experience an unwanted elevation in your blood sugars, unrelated to your food choices, and be left wondering why.

The answer likely is that some lesser-discussed reasons are causing those unwanted highs. Here's a list of those sneaky reasons your blood sugar is high and what to do to get it back in a healthy range.

You're sick or stressed

During times of illness, the body experiences stress, which ultimately causes an increase in blood sugars. Stress causes elevated cortisol (a hormone that's involved in the body's stress response), which then, along with other pro-inflammatory cells (in this case, cytokines), promotes glycogenolysis and gluconeogenesis. Glycogenolysis is when stored glucose (referred to as glycogen) is broken down into sugar and enters the bloodstream, and gluconeogenesis is when the body creates even more glucose from noncarbohydrate sources in the body. The overall outcome is elevated blood sugars.

When you get sick, it's important to have a plan. The plan should include regular monitoring of your blood sugars, so you can get ahead of unwanted and unexpected blood sugar spikes. Continue to be mindful of your nutrition choices and choose foods and beverages with moderate amounts of carbohydrates to prevent your blood sugars from going even higher. Additionally, be cautious with your intake of liquid carbs—like juice, soda or sugary coffee—as they can cause significant elevations in your blood sugars rapidly. Lastly, stay in contact with your medical care team if you notice significant fluctuations in your blood sugars.

Cucumber-Mint Spritzer

Pictured Recipe: Cucumber-Mint Spritzer

You're dehydrated

Hydration is integral to general health. In fact, the human body requires adequate hydration in order for every system to function optimally. Temperature control, moving waste throughout the body, digestion, oxygenating the body, and growing and reproducing cells all depend on plenty of water within the body. When you're dehydrated, water stores are in short supply, resulting in a higher concentration of glucose in the blood—or high blood sugars—as the body tries to compensate for the fluid imbalance.

The remedy is to make hydration a part of your daily plan. Hydration needs vary by person; however, a general rule of thumb is that if your pee is light yellow, you're hydrated. If it's darker than that, drink up. Another way to think about it is to aim for around 1 ounce of fluid per kilogram of body weight. For example, a 160-pound person weighs about 72.7 kg, so they would need about 9 cups of water each day. Setting a reminder to drink water can help, and infusing water with herbs and citrus can make it more enticing. Herbal teas served hot or cold can also be a nice addition to the hydration routine.

Your medications are causing it

There are a number of medications that can increase blood glucose levels, including steroids, mood stabilizers (including some antidepressants), and statins and diuretics for heart health. Certain medications can have an impact on the pancreas as well as on the body's internal glucose production. Diuretics increase urination, an action that can help reduce blood pressure; however, an unwanted side effect can be an increase in blood sugars as fluids leave the bloodstream and sugars become more concentrated. Steroids have the potential for interfering with the secretion of insulin from the pancreas, resulting in higher levels of circulating blood sugars.

Clinicians should be aware of the medications that could potentially increase blood glucose levels and offer alternatives that have a lesser impact when prescribing. Patients should always feel comfortable asking providers about possible side effects and what they should look out for as well as when to call the doctor.

Your hormones are to blame

Glucagon, amylin, epinephrine, cortisol and growth hormone are among the hormones involved in blood glucose regulation. They are uniquely involved with the liver breakdown and production of glucose, as well as the body's sensitivity to insulin. Women living with type 1 diabetes may experience fluctuations in blood glucose levels at different times during their menstrual cycle. During pregnancy, hormones secreted by the placenta can induce higher levels of maternal blood sugars.

Since all pregnant women experience hormone shifts during pregnancy, routine evaluation of blood sugars is part of the prenatal health checks. For those requiring additional or specific nutrition guidance around managing blood sugars, working with a registered dietitian or qualified health care provider would be recommended.

tart cherry superfood shot
Credit: Photo by: Jamie Vespa, M.S., R.D.

You're not sleeping well

Sleep is a biological need: without sleep, all body systems begin to degrade. When it comes to blood sugars, a lack of sleep causes cells to respond poorly to insulin, thus causing a spike in blood sugars.

Sleep hygiene is a major component of getting a good night's rest. If you find that sleep disturbances are a regular part of your life, a sleep study may be in order to find the root cause. Finding ways to unwind before bed will aid in restful and uninterrupted sleep. Create a cool sleeping environment that's free from technology and blue light. Be sure not to eat or drink too close to bedtime, as this can cause disruption during the night.

The Bottom Line

Getting to know your body and why you may experience an unexpected blood sugar high will help you to be better prepared should it happen. It's important to stay connected to your care team and seek out the help of your primary care provider when you experience unwanted or potentially dangerous symptoms.