Most of us know that consuming high amounts of sugar can increase our risk of obesity and diabetes, yet many of us still find it difficult to cut down on the sweet stuff.
According to a team of researchers, our inability to ditch sugary snacks and drinks may have a lot to do with our sleep patterns.
The researchers found that when we are sleep deprived we are more likely to crave sweet food than when we’re fully rested.
Unfortunately, they also found that high consumption of sweet food was linked to poor quality sleep, meaning it’s easy for us to get trapped in a negative cycle.
The research was lead by Dr Anna Weighall of the University of Leeds in partnership with bed company Silentnight.
Dr Weighall’s research team analysed results from previous studies to compile one in-depth report on how sleep and sugar are linked.
Citing a previous study in the Journal of Sleep Disorders: Treatment & Care, the researchers said that people who sampled a high sugar diet found it had a negative impact on their sleep.
In fact, young people (those most likely to have a high calorie, high sugar diet) were most likely to report short durations of sleep.
The researchers found the production of leptin – a hormone that reduces hunger and peaks during sleep – is decreased when sleep is decreased.
While leptin decreases hunger, a hormone called ghrelin increases hunger.
A reduction in sleep was also found to increase ghrelin release through the body, causing us to crave sweet, salty and typically calorific foods.
Unfortunately that’s just one side of the sleep/sugar cycle.
The scientists also found hormonal changes that occur due to weight gain were likely to make individuals feel more hungry than they would otherwise. In turn, the greater calorie intake would cause them to experience inadequate sleep.
Commenting on the findings Dr Weighall said: “With talk of a ‘sugar tax’ we are all increasingly aware of the negative effects of sugar on the nation’s health, especially in relation to weight gain and obesity.
“However, scientists have also shown that our diet can be important for sleep too. There is evidence that both adults and children who eat high calorie diets are more likely to sleep less.”
Dr Nerina Ramlakham, Silentnight’s resident sleep expert, said she believed sensitive sleepers should try to avoid sugar.
She said: “What is interesting from the research is that we see how quite quickly the relationship between sugar and sleep can become a negative cycle – with what we put into the body disrupting our sleep patterns, we are then kept awake and our body begins to crave all the things which keep us awake.
“Sugar can cause more restlessness and hyperactivity, especially if you’re a sensitive sleeper so best to minimise it.
“I would encourage people to break the cycle with a low sugar, or better still sugar free, drink before bed. If you have a hot drink before you go to sleep, it’s best to make it with almond milk, which is high in tryptophan, which is proven to improve sleep.”