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Sleep & Weight Loss: How Sugar Is Screwing With Your Sleep Habits

by Erika Nicole Kendall

I don’t blog much about sleep. I mean, mainly because I don’t feel like I get any. I’ve got so much on my plate that, for a long time, I felt like sleep was a liability. A casualty of war in the battle towards success. Some other poetic way of saying “I had too much to do and felt like I could skip sleep.”

But, for me, delaying sleep is different than it is for the average person. I work from home, and always have—if I skip sleep, I can nap when my kids nap. The average person can’t, so I’ve always felt like talking about sleep was a bit disingenuous on my part. I can’t push my unrealistic sleeping habits on other people with more solid schedules, you know?

That being said, even though my sleep schedule was erratic and often dependent upon whatever deadlines I had on my calendar or when the rent was due, I still got enough sleep to make sure my weight loss was successful.

And yes, you need sleep in order to ensure that your efforts are successful. It doesn’t matter if you work third shift—as long as you are getting enough rest to counter the effects of an exhausting day (emotionally, physically, or otherwise), you are okay.

For starters, the longer you’re awake, the more likely you are to eat. The average eating schedule is for your first meal to happen when you wake up, again during the middle of the day, and the third and final meal to happen a few hours before bed. If you wind up staying awake five or six hours after that meal, chances are high you’re going to eat again, and it’ll likely be very close to when you fall asleep. What’s more, but those post-dinner eating sessions are rarely meals but, instead, snacks and other high-carb and high-sugar foods that often make it difficult for you to fall asleep to begin with.

This ultimately creates a nasty cycle, where you fall asleep late, wake up tired, and rely on old faithfuls to get and keep you up and running—coffee, often with sugar, and sugar-laden foods that can carry you to your next meal on a sugar rush. And, because a tired body finds itself relying on sugar (and caffeine with sugar), it only reinforces the need for it, making it harder to turn down when its in your presence.

Furthermore, when you fall asleep on a high-carb and sugar-laden meal that’s also low on fiber, fat, and protein, your sleep is often restless. The kind of restlessness that results in you tossing and turning in your sleep is the same kind that forces you awake, hungry, to saunter off to the kitchen in search of something you can eat quickly.

The kinds of things “you can eat quickly” are also often high-carb, sugar laden foods, low in the very components that would help you get and stay asleep… the kinds of food that will jostle you awake, again, starving and in search of something quick and easy to eat to energize your morning. Sugar can definitely do that. But at what cost?

It also shouldn’t surprise anyone that lack of sleep is linked to Alzheimer’s disease, and that Alzheimer’s disease is also linked to excessive sugar intakethe same kind of excessive sugar intake that can cause a lack of sleep.

Sugar prevents your body from winding down in the traditional sense, so even when your body is laying or sitting still, you mind might be racing, which actively prevents you from being able to rest. And, from personal experience, if I have something sugary too close to my bedtime, more often than not I have nightmares—as a person who has lived with depression, I know that when my mind races it often quickly travels to darker territory, drudging up old memories and fears and parking them squarely in the middle of my sleep. Often, Ed will rub my face or arms to wake me, letting me know that I was making noises in my sleep. It’s usually because of nightmares—nightmares which, for me, almost always associate with what I ate prior to dinner.

By all means, don’t just take my word for it:

It turns out your diet might be to blame for restless nights, a new study by Columbia University researchers suggests. The team subjected 26 normal-weight adults to a controlled food regimen—high in dietary fiber and low in saturated fat and added sugars—for four days. On the fifth day, I’ll call this the dietary “free-for-all” day, they let the participants eat whatever they wanted. Each night, they monitored both sleep duration and quality—the number of times the participants woke up during the night, and the amount of time they spent in “slow-wave sleep,” the most restorative sleep stage.

The result: While total time spent snoozing didn’t change over the course of the experiment, sleep quality declined the more people spent their free-for-all day loading up on fiber-light, fat- and sugar-heavy foods. Meals low in fiber and high in saturated fat were associated with significantly less slow-wave sleep, while higher levels of sugar led to more wake-ups. The study subjects also fell asleep faster (an average of 17 minutes versus 29 minutes) on the controlled diet than they did on the self-selected one. [source]

What can you do? For starters, limit the sugar you consume throughout the day, and increase the amount of protein, fiber, and healthy fats you consume at each meal. Follow that up with skipping any post-dinner eating like dessert—unless it’s a complete and utter treat, like the rare restaurant visit or something—and you should be pretty close to smooth sailing. Pair all of that with an evening exercise routine—anything from a simple walk around your block to a spin class, and you’re well on your way to a restful and relaxing sleep… and, I’d suspect, a loss of a few pounds.

Tell me about your sleep. Are you getting enough? Are you struggling? What helps you get to sleep at night?

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Ashley January 9, 2017 - 4:19 PM

Wow, I didn’t know excessive sugar was linked to Alzheimer’s. Eep.

Also, “For starters, the longer you’re awake, the more likely you are to eat.” So true. So so so true. I was trying to explain to my doctor in getting his help with losing weight (big waste of time) that I’ve had to stay up late some weeks working on classes after work and it’s so hard to resist food when you’re up late (and trying to stay alert).

I’m trying to cut back on the fake sugar/caffeine for bladder and sleep reasons, and yes, struggling! It helps keep my spirits up, the despondency that sits in when I don’t have it is rough. Even worse after a stressful/miserable day.

Deneise Bradley January 23, 2017 - 9:48 AM

Very interesting. Thanks!

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