That Sugar Movement


Less sleep drives more soft drink consumption

161121_tsf_bloghero_01Seriously, how great do you feel after a solid night sleep? So great!

And good sleep is what your body needs to thrive, using the time to rest and repair, preparing you to take on the world the following day.

Poor sleep, however, has been linked with weight gain, mood and behavioural dysfunction, insulin resistance, and comprised immune and brain function. Boo.

And according to recent research, the length and quality of your time in dream-land can influence your sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) intake.

Sleep and the sweet stuff

A team of researchers at UCSF examined dietary and health data from over 18,000 adults in the U.S., which included caffeinated, non-caffeinated, fruit juice, and soft drink intakes and sleep duration throughout the working week.1

They found that those who slept 5 hours or less a week drank 21% more caffeinated SSB (soft drinks and energy drinks) when compared to their 7-8hours per night counterparts. Those only getting on average 6 hours per night consumed 11% more.

The results indicate that the more sleep one gets, the less inclined they may be to reach for the liquid quick energy hit.

But it may also be that the more sweet stuff one drinks, the less and poorer quality sleep one has, creating a vicious cycle.

“We think there may be a positive feedback loop where sugary drinks and sleep loss reinforce one another, making it harder for people to eliminate their unhealthy sugar habit,” lead researcher Aric Prather says.

Whether or not sleep deprivation leads to increased SSB consumption or the other way around, Prather states “sleeping too little and drinking too many sugary drinks have both been linked to negative metabolic health outcomes, including obesity.”

While the research team is reluctant to draw conclusions on cause and effect, the relationship is worthy of more intensive investigation. This will encourage healthcare practitioners to consider sleep habits as part of dietary and health treatment plans, and could be especially helpful for complex conditions such as obesity.

Sleep and obesity

The propensity for becoming dangerously overweight is multifactorial. These can include genetics, the health of the intestinal microbiome, hormonal activity, how much we move, what we consume, and sleep.

Among other factors, the sleep and weight gain connection may be in part due to the function of melatonin, the master timekeeper hormone of the body.

Melatonin, produced in the pineal gland, maintains the body’s circadian rhythm over a 24 hour night and day cycle, rising at night as part of the sleep cycle. It also inhibits the production of insulin.

This allows the body to easily access glucose throughout the night when we sleep, a time when we are not consuming food or drink.

However, melatonin production is also designed to be inhibited by light and cortisol.Cortisol, one of our stress hormones, works as an antagonist to melatonin.

In a perfect world, cortisol is high in the morning when melatonin levels are waning due to exposure to daylight, preparing us to leap out of bed full of energy to take on the day.

Insulin at this time also increases, acting as a communicator to the appetite centre in the brain to let the body know it is time to eat.

The roles then switch in the evening as melatonin rises and the body prepares itself for sleep.

But if stress levels are high, we have moved time zones, or we are exposed to a heap of light late into the evening (hello, iPads/televisions/smart phones in bed), melatonin production still exists but can be a little compromised.

Low or erratic production of melatonin can mean less and poorer quality sleep, leading to a greater inclination to reach for the sweet stuff the next day.

A recent study published in Pediatrics supports this, noting that children are at greater risk of becoming obese if having irregular sleep patterns, along with other factors like not eating breakfast.3 Factors such as this can lead to overeating (and often too much of the energy-dense, nutrient poor food and drink).

Finding your healthy, happy balance

Encouraging good, restful, regular sleep is important, to set a helpful circadian rhythm, lead to better food choices, and even help treat obesity.

It is important to note here that in discussing obesity we are not advocating that every person be a super-lean carbon copy of each other. Quite the opposite!

Every person is different, with a lifestyle, cultural, and genetic mix unique to them, and we are all made up of various shapes and sizes. Essentially, it is about finding a place where you are in a good state of health feeling energized and happy.

But extreme overweight comes with an array of health issues, and whilst obesity is complex, for many it can be addressed through dietary and lifestyle amendments.

Sweet dreams

So, allow yourself time to engage in healthy sleep habits. We have outlined some here, including limiting stimulant intake and switching off electronic devices at least 30minutes before bed.

Sleep is fundamental to health, physically, cognitively, emotionally. And it seems good sleep may make it easier to make better food choices and limit the added sugar intake.

If lack of sleep is an on-going issue for you, please contact your healthcare practitioner who can assess your individual situation, and work with you on a holistic treatment plan.

By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med.)



  1. Prather, AA, Leung, C, Adler, NE, Ritchie, L, Laraia, B, & Epel, ES 2016, ‘Short and sweet: Associations between self-reported sleep duration and sugar-sweetened beverage consumption among adults in the United States’, Sleep Health, [Epub ahead of print].
  1. Gropper, SS & Smith, JL 2013, Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism, 6th, Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, Belmont CA.
  1. Kelly, Y
    Pataly, P
    Montgomery, S
    & Sacker, A 2016, ‘BMI Development and Early Adolescent Psychosocial Well-Being: UK Millennium Cohort Study’, Pediatrics, [Epub ahead of print].
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