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The Unexpected Impact of Sugar on Sleep
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The Unexpected Impact of Sugar on Sleep

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Sleep is one of the most critical elements of health, affecting everything from mental clarity to physical well-being. 

Yet, if you ask people if they’re satisfied with their sleep quality, most often people will tell you no. The majority of people are walking around feeling fatigued during the day.

With the amount of sugar consumed in the typical American diet, it’s no wonder people have trouble sleeping.

Blood sugar fluctuations can disrupt our sleep patterns. This article will take a look at the impact that sugar has on sleep, and how we can take better steps toward more restful sleep.

The Impact of Poor Sleep

Sleep is essential for our overall health and well-being. When we don’t get enough sleep, it can lead to a long list of negative consequences, including:

  • Fatigue during the day
  • Poor mental clarity
  • Impaired judgment
  • Increased risk of accidents
  • Weakened immune system
  • Weight gain
  • Depression

There are solid links between sugar consumption and sleep quality, so if you are struggling with these problems, it may be time to take a serious look at the amount of sugar you are eating. 

So how does sugar impact our sleep?

The Relationship Between Sugar and Cortisol

Eliminating sugary foods from your diet can help keep your stress hormones (like cortisol) more stable throughout the day, which allows for better sleep at night. 

Sugar can have a significant impact on cortisol levels. Cortisol plays an essential role in the body, where it is known as the “stress hormone.” Too much, too often can throw off your days and disrupt your nights. 

When we eat sugar and excessive refined carbohydrates, your blood sugar levels rise quickly. This causes your body to release a surge of insulin.

The process works well for most people. However, suppose you have poor insulin sensitivity or are diabetic. This can drop your blood sugar levels drastically within just a few hours, causing irritability, fatigue, and even trouble thinking clearly.

What Is Cortisol?

Understanding how sugar impacts your sleep begins with understanding how sugar, sleep, and cortisol are linked.

Cortisol is a hormone that is produced by the adrenal glands. It plays a role in stress response, metabolism, and immune system function.

Normal cortisol levels are highest in the morning, and they start to decline throughout the day. Understanding cortisol is vital because elevated cortisol levels are linked to problems sleeping, while low cortisol can cause insomnia.

Why Is Cortisol Important for Sleep?

In short, cortisol tells your body when it’s time to wake up. It also helps you feel more awake during the day by targeting receptors in the brain that make you feel energized.

Cortisol is essential for sleep because it helps to regulate your circadian rhythm, which is your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. Your circadian rhythm can go off-kilter when cortisol levels are chronically elevated, leading to problems sleeping.

What Does Sugar Do to Cortisol Levels?

When you eat sugar, your blood sugar levels spike, which signals your body to release insulin.

Insulin tells your cells to receive glucose (blood sugar) for energy.

Healthy foods will tell your body to release a moderate amount of insulin. But sugary foods require a lot of insulin to remove sugar from your bloodstream and deliver it to cells. 

When your body senses high amounts of blood sugar then releases high amounts of insulin, you may have a low-level stress response where your body releases cortisol. 

Unfortunately, cortisol interferes with sleep patterns because there’s a 24-hour rhythm to its ups and downs, and having sugary foods disrupts those natural patterns. 

How Does Sugar Affect the Circadian Rhythm?

The circadian rhythm is regulated by a group of cells in the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). The SCN receives cortisol input, which helps keep the circadian rhythm on track.

When cortisol levels are elevated, as they are when you eat sugar, the SCN receives a “wake up” signal that disrupts the circadian rhythm. This can lead to problems sleeping because your body is not getting the proper input to tell it when it’s time to sleep.

Throughout the night, cortisol levels should gradually decline as you sleep. However, this process is disrupted when you eat sugar and cortisol levels remain elevated. This leads to restless sleep and difficulty getting the deep, restorative sleep you need.

Things You Can Do to Improve Your Sleep Quality

If you are struggling with sleep, the first step is to look at your diet. Reduce the amount of sugar you are eating and see if that makes a difference.

In addition to reducing sugar, here are some other tips to help you get better sleep:

  • Establish a regular sleep schedule and stick to it as much as possible
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed
  • Exercise regularly, but not within a few hours of going to bed
  • Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet
  • Avoid using electronic devices in bed
  • Practice some relaxation techniques before bedtime

If you are struggling with sleep, it’s essential to be proactive and take steps to resolve the issue.

If you’re not sleeping well because of blood sugar imbalances, a diet change could be just what your body needs for a better night’s rest. With the proper steps, you can get your sleep back on track and feel more rested and energized during the day.

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