Sleep Deprivation, Snacking, and Blood Sugar: A Connection

Weight gain and high blood sugar often cause increased mental and physical stress that disturbs our sleep, and insufficient sleep is associated with weight gain and reduced glucose control.

This is why some people with diabetes feel stuck in a never ending cycle involving symptoms, stress, weight gain, fatigue, and insomnia.

The way lack of sleep affects our food choices may partly be responsible for this frustrating cycle. A study conducted at the University of Chicago by Dr. Erin Hanlon revealed that tired people are more likely to consume “highly palatable, rewarding snacks.”

Insomnia and Snacks

While earlier studies linked poor sleep with weight gain, Dr. Hanlon’s research suggests why this occurs. Restricted sleep seems to enhance the endocannabinoid system in our brain, increasing the enjoyment and satisfaction we derive from food—so we snack more. As you might have guessed, the endocannabinoid system is also the brain network stimulated by active marijuana ingredients.

Though people burn more calories while awake than when asleep, the extra calories sleep-deprived people ingest surpasses those burned during their sleepless hours, so they tend to put on weight. The added snacks and weight often translate into higher A1C values, increased diabetes symptoms, fatigue, inactivity, worry, and more trouble sleeping.

Managing Temptation

Fortunately, and thanks to Dr. Hanlon, awareness is now on our side. If we are suffering from a lack of sleep, and know this might make us snack-susceptible, we can pause, draw on whatever wisdom remains in our sleep-fogged brain, and reach for carrot sticks instead of cookies.

We should also do our best to enjoy consistently restful sleep. To avoid fatigue-related snack temptations most of us need seven to nine hours of shuteye every night. It may help to follow these sleep guidelines:

  • Make the bedroom an electronics-free environment where the mind and body receive respite from activity.
  • Keep the bedroom quiet and dark as possible, and not too hot, or cold.
  • Get up and go to bed at the same times every day.
  • Learn at least one relaxation method (e.g., mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, breathing techniques, visualization) for those nights when sleep is elusive.
  • Avoid large meals or heavy snacks close to bedtime.

We also sleep better by making time to enjoy personal interests, spending time with friends, and exercising regularly.

If your problems sleeping are persistent, talk to a doctor. He or she may want to assess you for sleep apnea, a treatable disorder that disrupts our breathing pattern - and sleep cycle - during the night.

Sources: Mayo Clinic; I Heart Intelligence; Sleep Journal; NCBI
Photo credit: Mikaela

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