Sure, we all want sweet dreams. But ingesting processed sugar is not the way to get there.
In fact, sugar consumption interferes with sleep, which increases blood sugar levels. It’s a vicious cycle that is difficult to arrest. Instead, the best defense is not to consume excess sugar.
Refined sugar is especially harmful to our bodies. It has been linked to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. And it can prevent deep, restorative sleep.
We need sugar in our bloodstream to provide fast fuel for our cells, but most Americans consume several times too much. It stresses our livers, kidneys, and hearts. Instead, we should get our sugar from fruits and vegetables, and find healthy alternatives for use in drinks and in baking.
How sugar reduces slumber
How does sugar (and refined carbs too – white bread, white potatoes, and pasta) consumption hinder sleep? A 2016 study found it delays the body’s release of melatonin, the hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. With insufficient melatonin, the body takes longer to slide into sleep and experiences nighttime arousals that prevent descent into the deepest, refreshing sleep we all need.
Additionally, excess sugar taxes our kidneys. It wakes us up in the middle of the night to urinate.
How good are you at falling back asleep?
How lack of slumber increases blood sugar
The reverse is true as well. As the amount of sleep decreases, blood sugar spikes. Chronic sleep deprivation prevents the uptake of insulin and can lead to diabetes. The whole sleep-sugar cycle is self-perpetuating.
But how do we replace sugar? It’s in everything.
First, eat nutrient-dense food: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and if you eat meat, grass-fed, organically-raised. Limit dairy and eliminate anything manufactured in a factory.
Humans can consume all the glucose and fructose (natural sugars) they need from fruits and vegetables, with the added benefit of all the vitamins and minerals they provide. Some fruits – like bananas, grapes and cherries, and all dried fruits – are quite high in sugar. They are nutritious in moderation but not in excess. Avocados, berries, lemons and limes are lowest in sugar, as are most vegetables.
What if you have a sweet tooth?
It’s not as if you can just turn off the sugar spigot one day after years of consuming junk food, sodas, and refined sugars. Your brain is addicted.
What if the whole food diet isn’t satisfying the craving? You have two alternatives.
First, trying sweetening your dishes with natural foods. Applesauce, almonds, and honey are great alternatives to sugar in baking. These foods provide natural sugar and add nutrients the body needs.
If you must use real sugars, raw honey is natural, antibacterial, and breaks down quickly. Coconut sugar has a low glycemic index and has antioxidant properties. Agave nectar is high in fructose – natural fruit sugar – and you only need a little.
But these substitutes break down into sugar, so use them sparingly if you don’t want to wake up fatigued.