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How Sugar Affects Your Sleep

sugar and sleep

Sugar is a glorious thing. It makes bitter things tolerable, sour things enjoyable, and sweet things even sweeter. However, your favorite sugary cereal or that extra cookie you ate this morning instead of your porridge could be doing more harm than you realize. Sugar can aid in weight gain, create dental problems, cause unbalanced blood sugar levels, and affect your sleep.

If we haven’t swayed you to ditch the extra cookie yet, you should read on. This article covers the ins and outs of sugar and how it can make existing problems worse and even increase the risks of developing new ones.

How Sugar Affects Your Sleep

Sugar can affect your sleep in a variety of ways, many of which often go unnoticed and aren’t thought about during waking hours. 

Waking more often during the night.

Although it’s common knowledge that we wake many times during the night, if only for a second or two, and never remember doing so, it’s often attributed simply to the switching of sleep phases. This is true, however, we may also wake more often during the night if we eat a lot of sugar during the day or a particularly sugary snack before bed.

An excess amount of sugar in our systems during the night is known to lead to more frequent night time wakings. Sugar, the powerful force it is, has the ability to wake us from even the deepest slumber multiple times a night. This, as a result, leaves us feeling unrested and irritated the next morning, which is a feeling that can last for days should the cycle repeat.

Poor digestion.

The human body isn’t made to digest sugar. In fact, it has a hard time digesting small amounts, let alone the large amounts that we consume when we enjoy a supersized slushie.

As you know if you suffer from any digestion related issues, such as heartburn, digestion gets worse at night. This is especially true when it comes to eating large, sugary meals right before bed.

Not only can sugar irritate the stomach and cause ulcers and GERD to flare up, but it can also irritate the bowels, which can lead to frequent bathroom trips, stomach aches, or constipation that can keep you from getting a good night’s rest.

Sleep Apnea and Blood Sugar

As rates of sleep apnea rise, the relationship between sugar and sleep apnea are becoming clearer. By itself, sleep apnea is a troublesome problem that can cause a plethora of unpleasant effects and increase the risk of developing many diseases.

To make matters worse, it’s been found that sleep apnea is worsened by high levels of sugar in the blood, which is also known as high blood sugar. Those that suffer from chronic high blood sugar, such as those who are diabetic, are at risk for the worsening of their existing sleep apnea or developing the condition if they don’t already have it.

As A Result

This doesn’t sound too scary, seeing as both conditions can be managed. However, both sleep apnea and high blood sugar put strain on the heart, which can result in cardiovascular disease. The two conditions ultimately increase the risk of mortality.

Low Blood Sugar and Sleep

sleep apnea and blood sugar
The connection between low blood sugar and sleep problems can be observed in much of the population - particularly the diabetic population, as hypoglycemia (also known as low blood sugar) is common in those who suffer from the illness.

Hypoglycemia is characterized by the dropping of blood glucose levels to abnormally low numbers. Although low blood sugar related issues can strike at any time, it's common for the problem to get worse at night, with many diabetics suffering from nocturnal hypoglycemia.

Nocturnal hypoglycemia is a common cause of insomnia. When blood sugar drops drastically during the night time hours, glucose regulating hormones are released. These hormones stimulate the parts of the brain that are responsible for hunger, telling it that it’s time to eat.

During the night, the brain receives this signal many times, waking the sufferer more often than one would like.

It's been noted that for those who suffer, eating a small carbohydrate-rich snack before bed may help reduce the effects of nocturnal hypoglycemia. A snack that packs a punch of sugar works to keep levels stable through the night. In addition, carbohydrates may also increase the amount of serotonin -one of the chemicals responsible for sleep- that the brain produces.

Regardless of whether you suffer from diabetes or nocturnal hypoglycemia, a rich snack may do you a world of good if you often fall victim to sleep disturbances.

Side Effects of Low Blood Sugar During The Night

Aside from keeping you awake or waking you up, low blood sugar levels can have a variety of other unpleasant effects upon waking. A few of these include:
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness

How Does Sleep Deprivation Affect Hunger and Blood Sugar Levels?

For decades, both doctors and scientists have been well aware of the effects that lack of sleep has on the brain and body. This includes the rate at which a sleep deprived body metabolizes glucose levels.

Studies on the relationship between sleep, hormones, and glucose found that healthy adults who got roughly 4 hours of sleep each night for six days, experienced a dramatic 40% drop in the effectiveness of their body's glucose regulation. This effectively put them at higher risk for developing diabetes.

When the test subjects were fed a high-calorie breakfast in an attempt to level their blood sugar, their levels stayed dramatically higher than they should have for a long period of time, cementing the fact that their bodies were still not processing glucose very well.

From this study and various others, it was proven that a lack of sleep increases blood sugar levels. Luckily, there is a relatively simple solution to the problem.

The Science

But, how exactly does this work? Well, when the body enters a deep sleep the nervous system becomes less active, the brain uses less sugar, and the level of cortisol -the activating hormone- decreases.

This is the main reason why doctors recommend getting plenty of rest. Hormone levels and lack of deep sleep is believed to feed the relationship between weight and the risk of diabetes.

How To Correct The Problem

The easiest way to remedy the host of problems that comes with lack of sleep is by sleeping more. This, however, can be easier said than done.

A great way to get more sleep is by simply going to bed one hour earlier. Although an hour doesn't sound like much, the extra 60 minutes of sleep can equate to an entire cycle of REM sleep, that is, the deep sleep that our bodies need.

If going to bed an hour earlier isn't feasible, consider making use of the various inexpensive, all-natural sleep aids and sleep-better solutions that are available.

A few of the best include essential oils -both the rub-on and smell-only varieties-, massage, meditation, a warm bath, light exercise, and following a healthy diet complete with adequate amounts of water.

Stress reduction is another simple way to aid in whole body health, including blood sugar and sleep. If you lead a stressful life, managing your stress in healthy ways such as the ones mentioned above is a great place to start in the quest for better sleep and healthy blood sugar, as stress throws the entire body out of whack.

Lack of sleep and sugar work together to wreak havoc on the body. If the two go unchecked and are given permission to do as they wish, they can quickly cause a whole host of unwanted issues.

Despite having lack of sleep under control, if your blood sugar levels are unbalanced, you may still end up suffering from insufficient amount of sleep, which is why managing your blood sugar levels is so important in the grand scheme of things.

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