Though we all know sugar is not always the best thing for our bodies, it’s quite common for our sugar cravings to get the best of us. Eating or drinking too much sugar can lead to weight gain, cause tooth decay, and or even increase the risk of high blood sugar and diabetes. But it turns out it can even ruin our sleep each night and make our cravings more powerful.
In this article, we’ll take a look at how sugar impacts your sleep each night. We’ll also provide you with some helpful tips to reduce your sugar consumption before bedtime.
The Connection Between Sugar and Sleep
Most people reach for sugary drinks thinking it will offer you a burst in energy. Though you may feel an initial boost, it’s common to experience a sugar crash shortly after. When individuals consume large amounts of sugar, it stops the production of orexin. Orexin is a chemical responsible for wakefulness so, when levels of this chemical are low, it can cause you to feel a bit sleepy. More often than not, this causes us to reach for another sugar-packed snack to get us through the day. Unfortunately, the vicious cycle of consuming sugar can make it extremely hard for us to fall asleep come bedtime.
A recent study discovered individuals who consumed more sugar throughout the day had more trouble falling asleep at night. As a result, sleepers spent less time in the deep sleep stage and experienced frequent wake-ups throughout the night. Deep or slow-wave sleep is the most essential stage of sleep and is necessary for your body’s restoration. Additionally, deep sleep is vital for maintaining a healthy metabolism.
Another downfall eating a lot of sugar before bed is it may leave you feeling a bit anxious. Eating sugar, especially processed sugars, can cause your blood glucose levels to spike and crash. When your nervous system goes through these extreme highs and lows, you may also experience changes in your mood. This can be troubling at bedtime since feelings of worry or sadness can make it harder to relax. Lack of sleep has been linked to the hunger hormone ghrelin and our stress hormone cortisol, which are both associated with increasing our desire to eat unhealthy foods, like sugar.
Consuming Sugar Causes Sleeping Disruptions
If you are finding it hard to get a good night’s rest each your sugar intake could be to blame. Sugar has been linked to several sleeping disruptions such as nightmare and snoring. Below, we outline how sugar can cause sleep issues.
High sugar intake can cause your body to produce excess insulin, the hormone responsible for processing sugar into energy. As a result, you experience a blood sugar drop; or reactive hypoglycemia. It’s common for night sweats to occur as a result of this condition.
Nightmares and Night Terrors
There is limited research to prove sugar is the reason for nightmares or night terrors. However, a recent study linked sugary foods, such as cookies, ice cream, cake, and chocolate, to nightmares. In this study, 31% of participants experienced bizarre and disturbing dreams after eating cookies and cake. Additionally, one of the connections between nightmares or terrors and sugar is hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. This condition can cause temporary changes in brain chemistry, causing the occurrences of lucid dreams.
Snoring and Sleep Apnea
Eating or drinking processed sugar can sometimes be the cause of snoring or even worsen the condition. Sugar consumption increases the natural production of phlegm and cytokines. Cytokines are a cell protein known to cause inflammation and may restrict airflow through your throat and nasal passage. You may develop a snore or experience frequent wake-ups as a result of too much sugar before bed. Additionally, sleep apnea is commonly linked to high glucose levels in relation to diabetes and heart disease, two conditions that can make sleep even more elusive.
Sugar Stimulates Your Appetite and Cravings
Consuming meals primarily composed of sugar could be the reason your sweet tooth is so intense. Sugar stimulates your brain’s reward system, and when you consume sugar, it causes your brain to release the hormone dopamine. Dopamine delivers powerful feelings of pleasure so, the more sugar your body craves, and you may feel hungrier than usual. Increased hunger can lead to snacking on junk food late at night, causing interruptions in your sleep cycle. Not to mention, eating sugary snacks can cause painful bellyaches, and it can be a struggle for you to get back to sleep.
Tips to Avoid Sugar Before Bed
Finding a way to eliminate sugar can be a struggle for some of us. However, it can be as simple as drinking more water or even adding more protein to your diet. Below, we list some helpful ways to stay away from sugar at bedtime.
Drink More Water
Drinking more water throughout the day is a great way to help flush out the excess glucose in your body. Not only does water improve blood circulation, but it also suppresses your hunger and can help curb your sugar cravings. It’s recommended you drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day. However, we suggest limiting yourself to one to two glasses at nighttime to avoid frequent urination throughout the night.
Add Sleep-Inducing Foods into Your Diet
Incorporating sleep-inducing food into your is another way to keep your sugar intake to a minimum. Foods packed with protein help induce sleep and have minimal effects on your blood glucose. Also, lean white meats such as turkey and chicken contain the protein tryptophan, a precursor to the sleep hormone melatonin. Furthermore, carbohydrates like sweet potatoes digest slowly and leave you feeling full longer. Not to mention, they boost tryptophan and serotonin, two brain chemicals involved in sleep.
Other sleep-inducing foods include:
- Dark leafy greens
- Whole grains
Limit Lack Night Snacking
Though sugary treats can be enjoyable now again, they do not add nutritional value to our bodies and can be the cause of sleep problems. It’s best to stay away from unhealthy foods late at night to avoid sleep interruptions. Though late-night eating is not ideal, we suggest swapping out processed snacks for healthy options like fruit or nuts for a better bedtime snack.
Consume Less Sugary Drinks
Sodas are loaded with sugar and should be avoided before bed, but keep in mind fruit juices or sports drinks can also be high amounts of added sugars. Try swapping out these beverages for decaffeinated herbal teas or a glass of milk. Many sleepers find these drinks help them relax and wind down for a better night’s rest.
Can sugar before bed cause nightmares?
Though there is no concrete evidence that sugar is the main culprit of nightmares, some researchers believe there is a relationship between dreams and diet. One of the connections between nightmares or terrors and sugar is hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. This condition can cause temporary changes in brain chemistry, causing the occurrences of lucid dreams.
Is honey a good substitute for sugar?
Honey has a reputation for being better than granulated sugar. This is because it contains antioxidants with anti-inflammatory properties known to provide health benefits, but like sugar, it also has high levels of glucose and fructose. However, unlike sugar, honey is higher in fructose than glucose and goes through less processing. Since fructose is sweeter than glucose, you may be able to use a smaller amount of honey in your food or drink without sacrificing sweetness. It’s best to consume honey in moderation because it can contribute to blood sugar spikes and weight gain.
Can sugar before bed cause anxiety?
Consuming high amounts of sugar before bed can cause you to feel a bit anxious. When you eat sugar in excess, it can cause your body’s blood sugar to rise and drop drastically. Since your glucose levels are inconsistent, your body has to work extremely hard to stabilize itself. While your body tries to get your glucose to a healthy level, you may experience feelings of worry, irritability, or sadness.
How do I keep my sugar intake at a moderate level?
The best way to moderate your sugar intake is by eating well-balanced meals throughout the day. Eating foods high in protein and fiber helps slow down the way your body absorbs sugar. Additionally, consuming proteins has a minimal effect on blood glucose levels and slows down the digestion process, preventing post-meal blood sugar spikes.
Why do I feel sleepy after eating sugar?
Some people believe sugar gives you an energy boost, but the truth is, the sedative effects of sugar are more powerful than the initial boost you feel. Eating a lot of sugar stops the production of orexin, a neurotransmitter responsible for stimulating wakefulness. So, the more sugar you eat or drink causes your energy levels to dip.
The consequence of eating sugar before bedtime includes some intense sleeping disruption such as nightmares, night sweats, and even snoring. Though it may be tempting to grab a sweet treat late at night, it’s best to try snacking on nuts or fruit if you get hungry. You can also try incorporating sleep-inducing foods like fish or sweet potatoes at dinnertime. This way, your body will be able to relax and wind down come bedtime.
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.