Sleeping for longer each night may help people reduce their intake of sugary foods and eat a generally healthier diet, finds a King's College London study.
Sleep is a modifiable risk factor for various conditions including obesity and cardio-metabolic disease.
The randomized controlled trial, the gold standard of scientific evidence, looked at the feasibility of increasing sleep hours in adults who typically slept for less than the recommended minimum of seven hours.
The researchers also investigated the impact of increasing sleep hours on nutrient intake.
More sleep led to a lower sugar diet
They found that extending sleep patterns resulted in a 10-gram (2.5 teaspoons worth) reduction in free sugar intake compared to participants’ baseline diet. (Free sugars are sugars that are added to foods by manufacturers or in cooking at home as well as sugars in honey, syrups and fruit juice.) The researchers also noticed trends for reduced intake of total carbohydrates reported by the sleep extension group.
Participants' overall diets also scored better on a healthy eating index. There was no change in the control group.
Personalized sleep advice improved sleep duration
The 21 participants allocated to the sleep extension group undertook a 45-minute sleep consultation which aimed to extend their time in bed by up to 1.5 hours per night. Participants in the sleep extension group received a list with a minimum of four sleep hygiene behaviours that were personalized to their lifestyle (e.g., avoiding caffeine before bed time, establishing a relaxing routine and not going to bed too full or hungry) and a recommended bed time.
For seven days following the consultation, participants kept sleep and estimated food diaries and a wrist-worn motion sensor measured exactly how long participants were asleep for, as well as time spent in bed before falling asleep.
For the control group, 21 participants received no intervention in their sleep patterns.
Nearly nine out of ten (86 per cent) of those who received sleep advice increased time spent in bed and half increased their sleep duration (ranging from 52 minutes to nearly 90 minutes). There were no significant differences shown in the control group.
The data also suggested, however, that this extended sleep may have been of lesser quality than the control group and researchers believe that a period of adjustment to any new routine may be required.
How can longer sleep help improve your diet?
The finding that increasing time in bed for an hour or longer leads to healthier food choices strengthens the link between short sleep and poorer quality diets that has been observed by previous studies.
Sleep, or a lack of it, affects our brain and our appetite hormones. Studies have shown that when sleep deprived people are shown pictures of unhealthy foods, an area in their brain lights up and becomes much more active. This isn’t noticed in people with normal sleep duration. So, in other words, getting enough sleep each night could dampen the brains reward pathways that drive food intake.
Previous research has found that partial sleep deprivation causes people to eat more calories the next day.
Getting too little sleep can also increase blood levels of a hunger hormone called ghrelin the next day, making you feel hungrier and more likely to make poor food choices on the fly.
Source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, November 16, 2017.
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