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Will Getting More Sleep Help Us To Eat Less Sugar?

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition released a study last month which suggests that adults who slept for longer had less sugar in their diets! The article even goes so far as to suggest that getting enough sleep every night may be an important modifiable risk factor in the prevention of obesity! The researchers followed a group of adults for 4 weeks, during this time they monitored their sleep patterns and their diets. The study found that those who increased their sleep time during the 4-week period consumed 10 GRAMS less sugar per day, compared to those who didn’t change their sleeping habits at all.

Did you know that human beings sleep for approximately one THIRD of their entire lifetime?? This vital component of our everyday lives has become extremely deprived in recent times. People are sleeping less and less. Studies suggest that over the last century, the duration of time that the average American person sleeps per night has decreased by more than ONE HOUR each night. Over 30% of American adult’s report that they sleep for less than 6 hours per night. YET, The National Sleep Foundation recommends that healthy adults sleep for 7-9 hours per day.

WHY do we need to Sleep and WHY aren't we getting enough of it??

One of the main functions of sleep is energy conservation, in other words we sleep at night to preserve the energy we need to function during the day. Sleep is a restorative process that is controlled by many different mechanisms. One of these is known as the circadian rhythm, also known as a person's “body clock” or “internal body clock”. The term is derived from the Latin term “circa diem” meaning: approximately one day.

Despite this essential need to sleep, humans often disturb the natural

process of sleep. Insufficient sleep, characterized by short sleep duration or poor sleep quality, have become increasingly common in recent years. These changes in sleep patterns are due to the increasing demands of a 24 hour society reflecting modern times, this is particularly the case in New York City. Factors attributing to this decline in sleep duration reflect the modern way of living associated with constantly being connected to email, and cell phones, late nights, artificial office light, use cell, medications, caffeine use, leisure activities and many other behavioral factors that lead to a sacrifice in the number of hours available for sleep. The biggest culprit of all is the use of smart phones and tablets keeping us awake longer than ever before.

Why do we eat more when we are tired?

Studies have shown time and time again, that more time in bed can lead to healthier food choices and eating habits. So, let’s break down some of the science behind this. After all, why does not getting enough sleep cause us to crave more sugary and highly processed foods?

1. Hormones

Research has shown that reduced sleep has a negative impact on our “hunger hormones”. Leptin is the hormone that signals to our body that we are full and to stop eating. Ghrelin, AKA (the hunger hormone) tells us when we are hungry and it’s time to eat. Studies have shown that people who have restricted amounts of sleep have higher levels of Ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and lower amounts of Leptin (the hormone that tells our body we are full). This means that we experience elevated sensations of appetite and hunger. Thus, we crave to eat more food. Whats worse? Subjects in these studies were observed to have an increased preference for carbohydrate dense foods- sweet, salty and starchy snacks.

2. The body’s Natural Reward System (AKA “Hedonic” Responses)

Similar studies have suggested that overeating occurred in people who had reduced amounts of sleep even if their hormonal profile remained the same. This leads us to believe that there are other negative effects of not getting enough sleep. It was shown that sleep restriction increases the neuronal response to unhealthy foods in normal-weight individuals. What does this mean? That during a period of restricted sleep (such as a busy period in work, or during holiday season etc), certain foods activate areas of the brain associated with reward to a greater extent compared to times when you are getting sufficient sleep. This means that not getting enough sleep causes a greater motivation to seek food as a reward. Hence, we feel sorry for ourselves and crave nicer foods (usually high in sugar) to make up for lost sleep.

3. Reduced Sleep and its Effect on Mood and Behavior

We all know well that not getting enough sleep has a huge impact on our mood and ability to concentrate and work hard the next day. Mood and levels of fatigue relate directly to our food choices. Unfortunately, poor mood often causes us to make poor food choices. It is often reported that people who experience daytime tiredness have an increased consumption of processed foods, high in sugar such as sweets and chocolates. We crave these foods to increase our blood sugar levels and help us to experience that sugar RUSH. Which eventually causes us to crash again, and the vicious cycle continues.

Time and time again it has been established that obesity and weight gain are caused by a wide variety of factors. It cannot be attributed to one specific thing but rather due to a variety of causes. At LKN we focus on the idea of holistic nutrition. By focusing on each component of our day to day lives, including our diet, sleep patterns, work lifestyle, exercise patterns and psychology we can learn to reach our health and wellness goals. Allowing ourselves enough time to sleep will in turn have positive effects on our food choices and overall health. To find out more about the different services and packages available visit the website: or come visit my Instagram page @lorrainekearneynutrition for tips and advice on living a healthier lifestyle and eating to fuel your body and mind.

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Phone: (212) 328-0195

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