Woman checking glucose levels with Freestyle Libre appShare on Pinterest
JGalione/Getty Images

Keeping track of your blood sugar is a key part of diabetes management. Whether those glucose levels are checked with a fingerstick meter or a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), it’s an important part of daily life with this condition, along with the future possibility of diabetes-related complications.

But just what is considered “normal” when it comes to blood sugar levels?

Diabetes is different for everyone, meaning that target goals will vary for each person and those goals will depend on many different factors. While this is an area to consult with your diabetes care team about, the medical community has guidance on what certain people should strive for in blood glucose levels.

There’s no magic number for your blood sugar. However, many people with diabetes strive to keep their glucose levels under 140 mg/dL on average.

Many authorities — including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) — explain glucose levels and what people with diabetes should work toward achieving, at a high level. The 2022 standards from the American Diabetes Association (ADA) are a set of guidelines followed by many professionals in the diabetes field. This chart details goals for specific groups of people with diabetes.

Before meals (fasting)After meals (post-prandial)Other
Adults with type 1 diabetes (see guidance)80–130 mg/dL< 180 mg/dL (1 or 2 hours after)
Adults with type 2 diabetes (see guidance)80–130mg/dL< 180 mg/dL and (1 or 2 hours after)
Children with type 1 diabetes (see guidance)90-130 mg/dL90–150 mg/dL at bedtime/overnight
Pregnant people (T1D, gestational diabetes) (see guidance)< 95 mg/dL140 mg/dL (1 hour after)120 mg/dL (2 hours after)
65 or older (see guidance)80–180 mg/dL80–200 mg/dL for those in poorer health, assisted living, end of life
Without diabetes99 mg/dL or below140 mg/dL or below

Importantly, the ADA changed its glucose level guidance in 2015 to reflect a change in thinking about overtreating and hypoglycemia concerns. The lowest target had been 70 mg/dL. Still, a study at the time determined that adults, children, and those who are older might be more prone to overtreating — especially if they use varying doses of insulin or glucose-lowering medications.

As with all aspects of diabetes management, these guidelines are used as a starting point by the medical community. One’s individual goals may vary, based on your personal needs. Make sure to consult with your doctor and diabetes care team to determine what may be best for you.

A key part of managing diabetes involves checking blood sugars, or glucose levels.

In type 1 diabetes (T1D), a person’s pancreas does not produce the insulin they need. In type 2 diabetes (T2D), the body may not make or use insulin correctly anymore.

For either T1D or T2D, ensuring glucose levels stay as level as possible is the goal. Sometimes insulin or diabetes medications are used based on the type of diabetes and personal needs. Many factors affect glucose levels, including food, exercise, insulin, medications, stress, etc.

Glucose level targets may vary for everyone based on their unique needs.

Achieving a “normal” blood sugar or glucose level is a bit of a misnomer. Often, the word “normal” is used to reference what someone’s blood sugars might be if they didn’t have diabetes.

However, this terminology is flawed because even people without diabetes do see blood sugar spikes, especially after eating and when consuming something with high amounts of sugar, or a complex carbohydrate like pizza or pasta.

Even though that person’s body will immediately start working to counterbalance that rising glucose level by producing more insulin, their blood sugars may still spike for a brief time even beyond those “normal” ranges. The same can happen with intense exercise or in high-stress situations if the person’s natural glucose metabolizing cannot quickly balance everything out.

For those with diabetes, the fact that our bodies don’t make or use insulin correctly means we must manually keep tabs on blood sugar levels and take enough insulin — or glucose-lowering medication — to balance everything out.

Language matters in diabetes

Words make a difference when you’re talking about diabetes. That’s especially true in the context of blood sugar levels and how someone manages their health.

Here are some suggestions on language choices when talking with someone about their blood sugars and glucose levels.

  • Try to avoid using terms like “good” or “bad” for higher or lower blood sugars.
    • Instead, try to not tie value judgments to these numbers. Think about them as just numbers, “in range” or not, and pieces of data to help make a decision in diabetes care. Sometimes glucose numbers are too low or too high, and it’s helpful for the person with diabetes to understand why those glucose fluctuations are happening.
  • Try to avoid judgment and blame with phrases like “What did you do?” when asking about higher or lower blood sugars.
    • Instead, use phrases: “Tell me about…” or “Do you know why that happened?”
  • Try to avoid asking a child or adult about their blood sugars as soon as you see them. This can make it seem like diabetes defines them and all you see is their numbers.
    • Instead, try talking with them about their day and any highlights before moving into the diabetes discussion.

Often, children and adults with diabetes can feel disappointed, frustrated, and angry about their blood sugars and diabetes management overall. This can lead to feelings of shame and guilt, if they can’t achieve what they view as “perfect” results. As a result, that can lead to diabetes burnout for the child or adult and cause them to lose interest in managing their diabetes as needed.

A1C measures your average blood sugar over the past 3 months.

You can have your A1C measured with a blood draw in your doctor’s office or lab. Some doctors can also perform a fingerstick blood test to check your A1C level.

When sugar enters your bloodstream, it binds to a protein called hemoglobin. People with high blood sugar have a higher percentage of the hemoglobin protein coated with sugar. Your A1C result will give you an indication of what percentage of your hemoglobin is bound to sugar.

  • Standard (no diabetes): Less than 5.7%
  • Prediabetes: 5.7% to 6.5%
  • Diabetes: 6.5% or higher

In general, the ADA and other clinical guidelines for people with diabetes is that you should work closely with your diabetes care team to determine what’s best for your A1C goal. Generally, clinicians advise for an A1C of being safely 7.0%, though that can vary depending on one’s individual care plan.

It’s important to keep in mind that A1C levels do not reflect all of the nuances of one’s diabetes management, meaning it doesn’t always reflect your glucose variability, meaning that A1C doesn’t offer insight into high or low blood sugars, and it can be manipulated if your blood sugars fluctuate regularly.

The A1C is not the same as your blood sugar average, which might be displayed on a fingerstick meter or your continuous glucose monitor (CGM). That’s because the A1C is limited in its scope and does not reflect your high and low blood sugars, nor does it reflect any glucose variability if you have dramatic spikes or drops in glucose levels.

As a result, many diabetes professionals have moved away from considering the A1C the sole “gold standard” for someone’s diabetes management. Instead, they use that A1C in addition to time in range (TIR) figures, showing how often your glucose levels are in your individualized target range.

Should I use a continuous glucose monitor?

While a fingerstick blood sugar test gives you a static glimpse of your glucose level at that precise moment in time, a CGM is a more constant flow of information that provides a more complete picture and pattern of how you’re doing.

This device monitors glucose levels under the skin, providing real-time results every 1 to 5 minutes. You insert a CGM on your body and wear it for 7 to 14 days, with the diabetes data being streamed to a separate handheld receiver or your smartphone app.

Importantly, you can see in real-time the effects of food and exercise on your glucose levels, and catch cases of hyperglycemia (too high) and hypoglycemia (too low) as they happen, avoiding the potentially dangerous consequences. It’s also a potentially life-saving tool for people with diabetes who experience hypoglycemia unawareness, alerting them to impending low blood sugars when their own bodies fail to recognize the warning signs.

Research has shown, time and time again, the benefits of CGM in helping people improve their diabetes outcomes. This 2019 study shows CGM to be among the best outpatient glucose level management option for lowering A1C. Meanwhile, this study is just one of the many that have shown in recent years how CGM use helps increase your time-in-range.

Learn more about CGM technology here

Glucose management is an important part of diabetes management. No magic number exists for “normal” glucose or blood sugar levels. While there are clinical guidelines on target goals for blood sugar levels and A1C tests, it’s important to remember that “Your Diabetes May Vary.”

You should consult your endocrinologist and diabetes care team to best determine your glucose goals, based on your personal care plan. A more advanced diabetes technology like a CGM may also be a discussion point with your doctor in achieving ideal glucose levels and a healthy time in range.