Need reason to spend longer in bed? In a study, people who had 21 minutes more sleep ate 10g less sugar and 170 fewer calories

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Eight hours of sleep a night may be elusive at this time of year, but it could help you to shift a spare tyre, reduce sugar intake and reduce your risk of obesity and  diabetes.

A study found that better sleep hygiene, and sleeping for longer lead to healthier eating patterns - particularly eating less sugar. In an experiment with 42 poor sleepers, who slept between five and seven hours a night, lead researcher Haya Al Khatib of Kings College University  found that four weeks of better sleep hygiene (cutting down on nighttime screen use, reducing caffeine intake and keeping bedrooms cool and work-free) helped participants spent 55 minutes longer in bed and extended their sleep time by 21 minutes on average.

But here's the surprise - the participants also kept a food diary, which revealed that they ate 10g less of free sugars consumption of free sugars (added sugars and sugars naturally present in fruit juice, honey and syrups). Given that the recommended limit is 30g a day, this is quite a significant sugar slash.

The dietary benefits didn’t stop there; participants also ate 170 fewer calories a day after putting sleep hygiene measures into action. Larger trials are needed to corroborate Al Khatib’s findings, but we know that  sleep deprivation can cause hormonal imbalances that trigger hunger. 

"Sleep duration and quality is an area of increasing public health concern and has been linked as a risk factor for various conditions, " commented  Al Khatib, from the Department of Nutritional Sciences. She said that her study showed that it was relatively easy to change your sleep habits with the personalised approach her study participants received and that  "increasing time in bed for an hour or so longer may lead to healthier food choices. This further strengthens the link between short sleep and poorer quality diets that has already been observed by previous studies."

We know too that chronic sleep deprivation is no good for our waistlines. "Research is also beginning to suggest that chronic sleep deprivation may impact on weight gain as it impacts on the hormones ghrelin and leptin which regulate our hunger and satiety as well as the amount of insulin we release after eating which may lead to us storing more fat," explains nutritionist Rob Hobson.

Reducing your sugar intake, especially before bed can create a virtuous circle of better sleep. “If your blood sugar constantly swings between high and low, the persistent battle of your hormones to keep things on the straight and narrow can be exhausting," says Jackie Lynch, registered nutritional therapist and author of Va Va Voom: The 10-Day Energy Diet  explains. "A blood sugar imbalance will also affect the quality of your sleep. Going to bed with high blood sugar will activate insulin and your blood sugar will start to drop. As stress hormones are released, you’re likely to wake up in the middle of the night for no apparent reason or have very restless sleep; by the time you wake up in the morning you’ll feel tired and drained.”

The takeaway? A good night's sleep is vital to maintaining a healthy weight, and reducing sugar may help you sleep better. See ya fad diets, hello bed.

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