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How sleeping well could help you to eat less sugar

January 10th 2018 / Anna Hunter / 0 comment


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A new study has shown that good quality sleep positively affects our diet, in particular reducing our sugar intake. If you were looking for even more of an incentive for an early night, here it is…

In case it has escaped your notice, it’s ‘new year, new you season’. Gym floors are bustling, cauliflower steaks are flying off the shelves (*eyebrow*) and over three million Brits are taking part in Dry January. Getting back on the health wagon is seemingly at the top of the nation’s agenda, but how about if simply clocking up eight hours of kip could help you to shift a spare tyre, reduce sugar intake or reduce your risk of obesity and diabetes?

A study headed up by researcher Haya Al Khatib of Kings College University has found that better sleep hygiene, and sleeping for longer, in turn improves diet. In an experiment with 42 poor sleepers, who generally slept between five and seven hours a night, Khatib and her team found that measures such as cutting down on nocturnal screen time, reducing caffeine intake and keeping bedrooms cool, comfortable and work-free helped participants to enhance the quality and quantity of their sleep. Over a period of four weeks, participants generally spent 55 minutes longer in bed than previously, extending sleeping time by 21 minutes on average. Participants also kept a food diary alongside implementing changes to their sleeping habits, evidencing an unanticipated discovery- consumption of free sugars (added sugars and sugars naturally present in fruit juice, honey and syrups) was reduced by 10g. Given that the maximum recommended limit of free sugars 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, and it’s also thought that a cut in calories and sugar intake could relate to the fact that sleeping for longer reduces the likelihood of late night snacking (if you’re snoozing you can’t be snacking), plus sleep deprivation is thought to cause hormonal imbalances that trigger hunger, but the potential for an additional measure to help to combat obesity is certainly exciting, as Al Khatib told The Times:

“The logical next step would be to build on this in something more long term, preferably in an overweight or at-risk population. Usually to target weight loss and health we revert to recommending better diet and exercise. It is possible that the inclusion of a third factor, in the form of sleep, would make it more effective.”

In a reciprocal manner, a reduction in sugar intake before bed could also help us to sleep soundly, as Registered Nutritional Therapist and author of Va Va Voom: The 10-Day Energy Diet explains:

“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. 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 the 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 balanced diet and regular exercise are important, but improving our sleeping habits could be just as vital to overall wellbeing and maintaining a healthy weight, and the relationship between all three elements is holistic. See ya fad diets, hello bed.

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