Want sugar and sleep? Dream on

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We hate to be the bearers of bad news, but you’re going to have to pick a side. Sugar and sleep do not good bedfellows make.

It’s no secret that consuming sugar will get you wired. Think of children buzzing around at a sugar-laden birthday party, lips caked with, well, cake.

We know that sugar can bring with it accelerated ageing, weight gain, increased risk of heart disease and diabetes. But, oh joy, it also offers sleepless nights spent tossing and turning. Meanwhile sleep fights for immune strength, metabolism, memory, learning, a great mood, and has a leading position in our overall health and wellbeing.

Now let’s look into why you should kick sugar to the curb for the sake of a little shut eye.

Unbalanced blood sugar levels

Some research indicates that snacking on sugar before sleep may have a sedative effect; and perhaps you’ve experienced this as a coma-like state following a night-time sugar binge or a carb-heavy lunch (see more from the National Sleep Foundation).

Unfortunately, the physiological struggle between responding to sugar intake and resting for sleep doesn’t stop once you’ve finished eating. It continues throughout the entire phase of sleep and your body spends the night balancing blood sugar levels.

If you wake often during the night or wake-up tired it could be the chocolate you munch on after dinner. Snacking on sugar before bed will raise blood sugar levels, and you know what they say: “what goes up must…” Eventually blood sugar levels will fall and during the night you will have a sugar crash (the very same one you get at 3pm in the afternoon).

Stress hormones

In response to the sugar crash, your adrenal glands release stress hormones such as cortisol which enable the ‘fight or flight’ response by increasing your heart rate, quickening your breathing and alerting your brain to the need for action (all this when you’re meant to be resting). Inevitably, your body wakes often in the early hours of the morning. Your body can’t sleep as you’ve given it fuel for action, not rest.

If you enjoy a bedtime snack then opt for complex carbs like oats and other whole grains that keep blood sugar levels steady throughout the night. Try a warm glass of milk, a few slices of cheese, a small tub of yoghurt or a handful of nuts as they all contain an amino acid called tryptophan, which stimulates serotonin – the hormone that makes you feel good, relaxed and ready for a solid night’s sleep. See our post on 10 natural tips to help you sleep better.

Are you a night-time sugar tragic? Have you noticed its affect on your sleeping patterns?

Kate Pamphilon is a Canberra-based kinesiologist and writes about complementary medicine for her blog, Holistic by Nature. Kate works with clients to clear what stands in their way from living a full and happy life.