It’s no secret that sugar can affect us in many different ways, but did you know it has a direct impact on our quality of sleep? Yes, one of sugar’s dirty little secrets is the effect it can have on a good night’s rest.
Let’s discuss a few of the most significant effects that sugar has on sleep and what we can do to get a better night’s rest tonight.
Sugar is linked to restless and disrupted sleep
A pivotal study on the subject of how diet affects sleep came to the conclusion that “Low fiber and high saturated fat and sugar intake is associated with lighter, less restorative sleep with more (sleep) arousals.” In other words, people who consume more sugar spend significantly less time experiencing deep, slow-wave sleep, which is essential for restoration and healing the mind, body, and soul.
Have you ever woken up after being in bed for eight to ten hours and wondered why on earth you still didn’t feel fully rested? If so, sugar may be the culprit. If and when you experience this frustration, think back to what you ate the night before. If you consumed a sugary snack right before bed, you may have the answer.
Slow-wave sleep is essential for good rest. Additionally, slow-wave sleep is critical for maintaining a healthy metabolism and strong immune function—both of which are compromised when too much sugar is consumed. Sugar is, quite frankly, not a friend of a good night’s rest.
Sugar increases inflammation within the body
While, on the surface, inflammation may not seem to have any direct connection to our quality of sleep, but growing evidence suggests that sleep and inflammation are actually regulated by the exact same biorhythms in our body, meaning they are very much connected. One impacts the other. Furthermore, inflammation can create or exacerbate pain or stiffness throughout the body that makes it increasingly difficult to relax, fall asleep, or stay asleep. So if that bowl of ice cream right before bed is contributing to inflammation, then your late-night snack may be standing between you and the sleep you so desperately crave.
One way to fight inflammation is to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. This is more than just a good habit, but it also promotes a healthy circadian rhythm that governs our sleep and immune function, which directly and positively impacts inflammation. Basically, and for many reasons, it’s a win/win.
Sugar and insomnia create a vicious cycle
We’ve discussed the fact that sugar leads to poor quality of sleep. But it should also be noted that we tend to increase our sugar intake when we don’t get enough rest.
A study conducted in 2018 revealed our penchant for eating more junk food when we’re tired. Shauna Lindzon, a registered dietitian from Toronto, spoke about this to Reader’s Digest. She said, “A lack of sleep has been linked to our increasing hunger hormone ghrelin and our stress hormone cortisol, which are both associated with increasing our desire to eat unhealthy foods.” In other words, Lindzon referred to what we probably know already—that when we’re tired, we’re more likely to reach for food or drinks that will give us a quick energy boost. And most of these choices contain high amounts of sugar. The problem? Sugar contributes to poor sleep.
So if poor sleep contributes to increased sugar intake, and increased sugar intake contributes to poor sleep, then it can become a frustrating cycle.
If you are someone who struggles with getting a good night’s sleep—or you simply want to improve the quality of your rest—what is the takeaway? How does this knowledge translate into sleeping better tonight? Is it possible to make a few simple tweaks that result in big improvements?
Yes! It is possible to implement a few small changes to your diet that could help you sleep better almost immediately.
Here are a few simple solutions:
“Close the kitchen” by a certain time each evening
Experts suggest that we stop eating or wait for two or three hours between eating our final meal of the day and going to bed. Not only does this allow our bodies to properly digest our food, but it also helps us to avoid the late-night snacking that often includes extra sugar.
Resources exist all over the Internet for how to snack in a healthy, tasteful way. It’s possible to find snacks that are both equally tasteful and enjoyable but don’t contain unnecessary sugar. At the very least—if we want to sleep better—we can evaluate the choices we are making and seek to make improvements where we can.
Replace sugary treats with snacks high in fiber
Fiber has been proven to improve deep, slow-wave sleep by slowing digestion and avoiding the blood sugar spikes that accompany sweet treats. So if we add fiber to our evening eating, it can help us feel more full and prepare us for a good night’s rest.
Bottom line: You have options to overcome sugar’s scary effects on your sleep. By making a few simple but determined tweaks to what you eat during the day, you can improve your sleep immediately. By keeping an eye on how late in the day we consume sugar, avoiding too much sugar right before bed, and going to bed at the same time each evening, we can help avoid the intense spike in our blood sugar that affects our sleep.
You’ve got this! And sweet dreams!