The dawn phenomenon revisited: implications for diabetes therapy

Endocr Pract. Jan-Feb 2005;11(1):55-64. doi: 10.4158/EP.11.1.55.


Objective: To summarize current data on the magnitude, prevalence, variability, pathogenesis, and management of the dawn phenomenon in patients with diabetes mellitus.

Methods: On the basis of the pertinent available literature and clinical experience, we propose a quantitative definition of the dawn phenomenon, discuss potential pathogenic mechanisms, and suggest management options.

Results: The "dawn phenomenon" is a term used to describe hyperglycemia or an increase in the amount of insulin needed to maintain normoglycemia, occurring in the absence of antecedent hypoglycemia or waning insulin levels, during the early morning hours. To be clinically relevant, the magnitude of the dawn increase in blood glucose level should be more than 10 mg/dL or the increase in insulin requirement should be at least 20% from the overnight nadir. Controversy exists regarding the frequency, reproducibility, and pathogenesis of the dawn phenomenon. Approximately 54% of patients with type 1 diabetes and 55% of patients with type 2 diabetes experience the dawn phenomenon when the foregoing quantitative definition is used. The most likely pathogenic mechanism underlying the dawn phenomenon is growth hormone-mediated impairment of insulin sensitivity at the liver and muscles. The exact biochemical pathways involved are unknown. Therapeutic decisions aimed at correcting fasting hyperglycemia should take into account the variability and magnitude of the dawn phenomenon within individual patients. Successful insulinization appears to minimize the effects of the dawn phenomenon. Currently, no subcutaneous depot preparation of insulin exists that is capable of mimicking the basal insulinsecretion of the healthy pancreas.

Conclusion: Increases in the bedtime doses of hypoglycemic agents with nighttime peaks in action may correct early morning hyperglycemia but be associated with undesirable nocturnal hypoglycemia. Targeted continuous subcutaneous insulin infusion programming can facilitate the prevention of early morning hyperglycemia in selected patients.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Circadian Rhythm*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / drug therapy*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / epidemiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / drug therapy*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Hyperglycemia / drug therapy*
  • Hyperglycemia / epidemiology
  • Hyperglycemia / prevention & control
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Incidence


  • Hypoglycemic Agents