Ever craved a late night sugary snack? A little extra sleep might be the solution! As we age, we tend to sleep less each night, and this is a problem. Researchers have found that adequate sleep (seven to nine hours) helps with memory consolidation and organization, brain communication efficiency, learning ability, and it can protect your heart and immune system. Plus, new evidence shows that less sleep as we age could even affect what we eat.
The Latest Evidence
Researchers at Kings College in London recruited participants who normally slept less than seven hours per night, and had some of them increase their sleep to the recommended seven to nine hours for four weeks. To do this, the researchers created a personalized list of sleep advice for each patient. The participants were instructed to do things like avoid caffeine and refrain from being too full or hungry before bed, or to create a calming bedtime routine. The sleep advice helped about a half of the patients to increase their sleep to the recommended amounts. And, surprisingly, compared to the patients who continued getting less than seven hours of sleep, all of the improved sleepers decreased their free sugar intake by 10 grams.
Free sugar? That’s right; it’s sugar that is added to foods either by manufacturers or while cooking. For example, candy bars and soda have added sugar, and honey and syrups are sugars you might add to foods while cooking. Now, let’s put 10 grams of free sugar into perspective: that’s about one-third of the sugar in a candy bar. So, if you were sleeping enough every day and skipping 10 grams of sugar, it would add up to about nine candy bars less in a month and 106 candy bars less in a year—which is pretty significant, right?
The amount of free sugar we consume has been on the rise due to its easy accessibility (it can be found in many products from grocery isles to vending machines, and even in restaurants). As a result, most Americans get 10% of their daily calories from free sugar. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, healthy adults aged 40 and above should be eating around 2,000 calories per day. This means the average American eats 200 calories of free sugar each day. But the American Heart Association recommends that women should get less than 5% and men less than 7.5% of their daily calories from free sugars (100 to 150 calories). It’s easy to get much more, because even one 12-oz soda contains nine teaspoons of sugar (which is equivalent to 150 calories)—and this can have a big impact, especially as we age. Why? Well, that’s because many diseases and medical problems that get worse as we age tend to be amplified by sugar. For example, one 15-year-long study found that increasing sugar intake from 10% of to 25% of your calories doubles your risk of heart disease, and meta-analyses (studies that analyze multiple other studies) have shown that sugar consumption increases our risk for diabetes.
So, obviously, the take home message is avoid added sugars. But now you may have a new strategy: get more sleep! And here are some tips from the National Sleep Foundation on just how to do that.