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One Habit to Avoid If You Want to Eat Less Sugar, New Study Suggests

This common misstep may be sabotaging your good intentions.
FACT CHECKED BY Joseph Neese

If you're looking to eat less added sugar, could your nighttime habits be sabotaging your progress? A new study in the journal Sleep suggests that your consumption of sugary foods is more likely to increase when you lose sleep by staying up late.

To determine how much of a connection there is between foods with added sugar and sleep issues, researchers looked at the eating patterns of 93 adolescents, including their food choices and daily calorie and macronutrient intakes.

The sleep patterns of the teenagers were also examined over five nights. They were split into two groups: those who got about six and a half hours of sleep a night and those who averaged around nine hours of nightly sleep.  (RELATED: The 100 Unhealthiest Foods On the Planet)

As it turned out, both groups consumed about the same amount of calories, according to the study's lead author, Kara Duraccio, PhD, clinical and developmental psychology professor at Brigham Young University. However, there was a big difference as to how they got there.

"Shortened sleep increased the risk for teens to eat more carbs and added sugars and drink more sugar-sweetened beverages than when they were getting a healthy amount of sleep," Duraccio tells Eat This, Not That!. "Basically, getting less sleep caused them to eat more junk."

Most likely, the teens were gravitating toward these foods as a way to get quick bursts of energy to make up for sleep deprivation, which can cause daytime sleepiness, she adds.

Related: The #1 Best Food That Crushes Sugar Cravings, Says Dietitian

Though the recent study focused on teens, previous research suggests that adults who skimp on sleep may experience the same effect. For example, a study looking at nearly 19,000 adults in Sleep Health found that those who slept five hours or fewer consumed sugar-sweetened beverages 21% times more than those who slept between seven to eight hours a night.

The problem points in the other direction, as well. A study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that low fiber, high saturated fat, and ample sugar intake can lead to lighter and less restorative sleep, including waking up in the middle of the night more often.

This means that when you get less sleep, you're more likely to eat more sugar, which in turn negatively affects your sleep, creating a challenging loop that might be tough to break. To help smash that cycle, Duraccio suggests focusing on sleep quality first. Create a solid bedtime habit, and make sure you get the recommended amount of nightly sleep nightly—that's seven to eight hours for adults and nine hours for teens.

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Elizabeth Millard
Elizabeth Millard is a freelance writer specializing in health, fitness, and nutrition. Read more
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