8 ways to keep sugar from ruining your sleep

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Who doesn’t love dessert? If you guessed no one, then you’re probably right. Many of us have a sweet tooth that craves satisfaction.  But refined sugar can do a number on your sleep, especially if you eat it too close to bedtime. If you aren’t getting a good night’s sleep after indulging your sweet tooth, there’s very likely a direct connection between the two.


Below, learn more about the connection between sugar and sleep and how sugar affects your overall health. Plus, get tips for enjoying the sweet stuff (like all that Halloween candy on sale right now!) without having it wreck your shuteye.

How does sugar affect your sleep?

“Consuming too much sugar at night before bed causes your blood sugar levels to rise and your pancreas releases insulin,” explains Alex Savy, certified sleep science coach and founder of SleepingOcean.com. “Sugar has been shown to increase restlessness at night and nighttime awakenings. The insulin helps your body to break down the sugar and convert it into energy at a time when your body needs to rest. As a result, you may end up feeling overstimulated and restless due to the excess energy.”


In a 2016 study, scientists offered strong evidence that sleep and sugar don’t mix. They recruited 26 healthy adults and monitored their sleep, using both restricted and unrestricted diets. When the subjects were allowed to eat whatever they wanted, they consumed less fiber but more sugar and saturated fats. The study found that subjects on an unrestricted diet had higher sleep onset latency (it took them longer to get to sleep) and lower quality sleep overall.


In particular, higher consumption of sugar and saturated fats led to less deep sleep and more arousals (instances of waking up).  Not only does sugar have the ability to mess with your sleep, but poor sleep also affects your sugar consumption. In a vicious circle, the more your sleep is disrupted, the more sugar you crave.


That’s because when you’re tired from lack of sleep, you tend to eat more junk food. Researchers at King’s College London studied 42 students and staff who were habitual short sleepers. Those who extended their sleep tended—of their own volition—to eat less sugar.


“Sleep extension,” the researchers concluded, “may be a viable strategy to facilitate limiting excessive consumption of free sugars in an obesity-promoting environment.”


Related: The 10 worst foods to eat before bed

What sugar does to your health

“Eating sugar activates the brain’s reward circuitry and a complex web of hormones related to hunger and metabolism,” writes Michael Breus, PhD, “The Sleep Doctor,” on his blog.


He points out that merely seeing a sugary treat stimulates the brain’s reward system. The brain responds by releasing the pleasure hormone dopamine.


“If this all sounds a lot like a drug addiction, you’re right,” says Breus. “The dopamine-activated reward pathways in the brain that are affected by sugar are the same ones affected by alcohol, drugs and other potentially addictive behaviors like gambling …”


Poor sleep combined with eating sugary foods (and the extra weight that tends to accompany them) reduces the effectiveness of hormones, including leptin and ghrelin, that are responsible for suppressing hunger and regulating metabolism. It also interferes with the ability of the insulin produced by your pancreas to regulate your blood sugar.


Sugar’s disruption of sleep also increases low-grade inflammation that contributes to disease. Sugar changes the healthy bacteria in your gut, which increases inflammation that, in turn, negatively affects sleep.


Inflammation also can be painful and create stiffness in your body that makes it difficult to fall and stay asleep. Plus, inflammation increases the level of the stress hormone cortisol, stimulating alertness — not a good thing when you want to sleep.


Related: Are your sleep habits wrecking your metabolism?

How to keep sugar from ruining your sleep

Are some sugars better—or at least less bad than others? Can you pair sugar with another type of food to offset its negative effects on sleep? Are there alternatives to sugar and sugar-sweetened junk foods that will satisfy your sweet tooth without ruining your sleep?


Here’s what top nutritionists had to say about mitigating the negative effects of sugar on sleep:

1. Control your stress and watch what you consume

“Stress can cause us to use food as a means of comfort and control when we feel out of control,” says Trista Best, RD with Balance One Supplements. “In times of stress, it is important to be mindful of what you are putting into your body and the potential it has to create a cascade of other issues in your life which only increase stress all the more.”

2. Limit alcohol intake at night

“Some alcoholic drinks contain a large amount of sugar, which raises your blood sugar levels,” says Savy. Stop drinking a few hours before bed to give your body time to metabolize the sugar and booze.

3. Avoid processed, refined or added sugars

“These are simply sources of empty calories that are highly detrimental to the gut microbiome and have been shown to induce inflammation in the gut and brain and increase the risk of developing symptoms of poor mental health and neurodegenerative diseases over time,” says  Uma Naidoo, MD, Harvard-trained nutritional psychiatrist, professional chef, nutrition specialist, and author of This Is Your Brain on Food.


Naidoo suggests small servings of berries or other fruit or a piece of 70% or greater natural dark chocolate rather than foods with processed or added sugars.


But she cautions: “Keep in mind that sugars are energy sources, and we don’t need much extra energy late in the day when preparing our bodies and brain for sleep.”

4. Go for whole foods with all-natural sugar content

Whole foods “provide plenty of fiber to go along with the sugar, which fills you up and makes it difficult to consume too much at once,” says Matthew Scarfo, NASM-certified nutritionist and contributor to the workout planning source Lift Vault. “Added sugar is worse simply because it’s far easier to consume in large quantities rather than natural sugars—such as raw honey or pure maple syrup—which are found in whole foods that are typically rich in fiber and other nutrients.”

5. Pair sugar with another type of food

“If you have consumed sugar, then I would suggest eating a handful of nuts such as almonds, walnuts, pistachios or cashews,” says Clara Lawson, RDN with USAHemp and expert in personalized nutrition and dietary plans. “Nuts contain magnesium and zinc that collectively promotes better sleep and prevents sleeplessness.”


Lawson also recommends dates as an alternative to artificial sugars.

6. Be mindful of the foods you keep in your home

“Take out the temptation, and you will find your eating habits—and sleeping routines—will benefit from your conscientious shopping,” says Shanda Sullivan, nutrition coach for the fitness and nutrition program My Diesel Physique.


She suggests stocking your fridge and pantry with fresh, unprocessed foods. That way, when you grab something to eat at night, “you aren’t tempted by anything that would do more harm than good,” says Sullivan.

7. Choose fiber-rich fruit over foods with high added sugars

“Fruit is high in fiber, which takes longer to digest and also promotes satiety,” says Mary Wirtz, RD, consultant for the parenting website Mom Loves Best. “Furthermore, fruit is very nutrient-dense versus energy-dense, and it makes it easier to control calorie intake before sleep.”


Wirtz says one of her favorite sweet treats is a simple homemade fruit sorbet: “Simply blend two cups of frozen fruit of your choice with a splash of milk or milk alternative,” she suggests. She calls this “a delicious way to satisfy the sweet tooth without overindulging.”

8. Go for the sugar-free version

“Opt for sugar-free versions to prevent having a sugar rush,” advises Brenda Peralta, RD, consultant for Sensible Digs. For example, choose a no-sugar-added, low-fat ice cream to avoid getting overstimulated at night. Plain Greek yogurt is another option.


For more nighttime noshes that won’t ruin your sleep, check out our list of the best late-night snacks to eat before bed.



This article
originally appeared on 
Saatva.com and was
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How to sleep your way to a better brain


Having trouble thinking creatively? Not able to focus on tasks that need to get done? Poor sleep could potentially be to blame. It turns out sleep deprivation can do a number on your brain — and not just in the short term. Sleep is crucial for keeping your brain healthy.


Research suggests that not getting enough quality sleep can have serious permanent negative consequences. On the other hand, good sleep habits can have lasting benefits.


Here are five research-backed benefits of sleep, from the proven ways sleep enhances brain function to what’s really going on in your noggin while you snooze.


fongleon356 / iStock


Thinking in new, imaginative ways requires a well-rested brain. Conversely, a sleep-deprived brain is unable to think creatively.


A study reported in the journal Nature bears this out. For the study, participants learned a task in which they had to recognize a hidden pattern in the questions they were asked. Their initial training was followed by eight hours of nighttime sleep or wakefulness or daytime wakefulness.


More than twice as many participants gained insight into the hidden rule after sleep as those who did after wakefulness, regardless of the time of day. The researchers concluded that “sleep, by restructuring new memory representations, facilitates extraction of explicit knowledge and insightful behavior.”


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One of sleep’s main functions is to help consolidate memory. It does this by enabling the brain to strengthen some neural pathways while reducing those it doesn’t need.


For example, your brain doesn’t need to retain every sensory impression accumulated during your waking hours. You might say that sleep helps the brain separate the wheat from the chaff of your everyday life.


designer491 / istockphoto


Beta-amyloid and tau are two proteins in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. These proteins build up in the brain daily but are typically flushed out during deep sleep.


People who have certain sleep disorders, like insomnia and sleep apnea, are more likely to develop dementia symptoms. This makes sense, given that the brain’s ability to clear out the toxic waste buildup only operates during sleep.


It’s important to note researchers can’t say for certain poor sleep causes Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. But what they do know is getting quality sleep each night is essential for removing harmful beta-amyloid and tau proteins from the brain.


taniche / iStock


Anyone who’s ever stayed up all night knows even one night without sleep affects your ability to think clearly, focus your attention or make decisions. Studies show sleep deprivation can impair your mental function as much as being intoxicated.


On the flip side, getting quality sleep goes a long way toward boosting your brain. For a study published in the journal Sleep, researchers looked at the effects of sleep on cognitive function. They noted the optimal amount of sleep for cognitive function is seven to eight hours. They also suggested even one night of good sleep could improve it.


torwai / istockphoto


Depression is often influenced by chemical imbalances in the brain, and depression and sleep problems go hand-in-hand. People with depression may either have a hard time sleeping or else get too much sleep.


While it’s not clear if sleep deprivation causes depression, it can worsen it. Studies show people who sleep fewer than six or more than nine hours a night are more likely to be depressed than those in between.


Those who have insomnia also are much more likely to have depression and anxiety than those who sleep well. This may be due to the disruption of the body’s circadian rhythm, the daily sleep-wake cycle, in people with depression.


Making lifestyle changes like limiting food, caffeine and alcohol too close to bedtime, practicing meditation and trying cognitive behavioral therapy can make it easier to get a good night’s sleep and, in turn, reduce depression symptoms.




There are two main types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. There are five stages of sleep total, made up of four NREM sleep stages and one REM sleep stage, all of which you cycle through multiple times during the night. Each stage is linked to specific brain waves and activity.


Here’s what happens to your brain during each stage of sleep.


Boris Jovanovic / iStock


During this short, several-minute period of light NREM sleep, your heartbeat, breathing and eye movements slow. Your muscles relax and may twitch, and your brain waves start to slow down from their daytime wakefulness patterns.




In this light NREM sleep period, your heartbeat and breathing slow down and your muscles relax even more. Your body temperature drops and your eye movements stop. Brain wave activity is slow, but there are brief bursts of electrical activity. Stage 2 sleep accounts for the biggest share of your repeated sleep cycles.




These so-called deep sleep stages, which are also part of NREM sleep, are what allow you to feel refreshed in the morning. Deep sleep lasts longer during the first half of the night. In these stages, your heartbeat and breathing slow to their lowest levels. Your muscles are relaxed and you may be hard to wake up. Brain waves in this stage are even slower.




During this lively period, first occurring about 90 minutes after you fall asleep, your eyes move rapidly from side to side behind closed eyelids. Brain wave activity is closer to what it is during wakefulness. Your breathing becomes faster and irregular, and your heart rate and blood pressure increase to near waking levels.


Most dreaming occurs during REM sleep, though you can also dream during NREM sleep. Your arm and leg muscles become temporarily paralyzed, which is believed to be the body’s means of protecting you from acting out your dreams. As you age, less of your sleep time is spent in REM sleep.


The bottom line: While scientists continue to figure out how sleep and the brain affect each other, the important thing is to make sure you get enough of the good quality sleep you need to function at your best.



This article originally appeared on Saatva.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.




Featured Image Credit: Luis Echeverri Urrea / istockphoto.