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October 31st, 2016

Sweets and Dreams

Today is Halloween – that beloved day where hordes of children dress up as scary things before running around their neighborhoods soliciting as much candy as possible from kindly strangers at their homes.

To the rest of the civilized world, “trick or treat” might sound like a small child is blackmailing a family into forking over candy, lest they invoke inevitable harm to person or property, but in America, it’s an annual tradition. In actual fact, the trick might really be on the children, since gorging oneself on sugary snacks all night is the right way to an upset stomach and a vivid set of nightmares. …but is that really true, or is it just an old wives’ tale?

Are sweets before bedtime really all that bad?

Candy Crushed

Candy may be dandy, but if you eat all your sweets, you won’t get any sleep. Say what now? That’s right, introducing a ton of sugars to your body just before bed starts a chain reaction of chemical processes that will not only keep you up well past bedtime, but the quality of your sleep will suffer as well.

If your metabolism is a balanced scale, eating too many sweets is like dumping a pile of sugar on that scale, which places a great deal of stress on your body as it tries to regain balance. Not the greatest way to end the day with a good night’s rest. Besides, if sugar gives you energy, having candy before bed is like sitting on a rocket and launching it into a wall. You’ll be all fired up and ready to go… absolutely nowhere – then immediately crash.

Frankly, just the damage you can do to your teeth by having candy before bed is bad enough, but if you decide to have more than a nibble from your candy basket anyway, several processes go into motion:

  • About 20 minutes after your candy binge, your blood sugar will spike, causing your pancreas to release a huge amount of insulin to absorb the glucose from all the sugar you just ate. The glucose is used as food for your cells, but if it can’t be used right away, the leftovers go to your liver, along with the other sugar compounds, to be metabolized and stored as FAT!
  • The glucose that does become cell food is converted to energy. Lots of energy. A rush of energy… that is, a sugar rush. Hand-shaking, heart-pounding, mind-racing energy. Too bad you’re heading to bed, or you could work off some of that energy, but don’t worry. There’s still a ton of insulin surging in your body, looking for more sugar to absorb…
  • After about 40 minutes, your blood now has way too much insulin and not enough sugar, dropping levels well below normal and causing a “crash” that makes you feel tired and hungry again. Your adrenal glands respond to this as an emergency and release the stress hormone, cortisol, which neutralizes the unused insulin and levels out your blood sugar.
  • After an hour, you’re super tired, but you can’t sleep because the cortisol also inhibits your body’s production of melatonin, which is the hormone that initiates your sleep cycle. Without it, you’ll toss and turn and stare at the ceiling for hours until your body can reconcile its cortisol-melatonin balance again. Hopefully, you have no particular plans in the morning.

The moral of this story is, if you want to get your eight hours, try to avoid sweets at least two hours before bedtime.

Sugar Ain’t Sweet

Everyone has their moments of weakness now and then and they choose to throw caution to the wind with a little late night snack anyway. Maybe it’s been a rough day. Maybe you got that raise you asked for. Maybe it’s Friday. For whatever the reason, you’ve decided the scorn from both Mr. Sandman and the Tooth Fairy is worth the reckless abandon of midnight munchies. Then… maybe the next night is more of the same. …and again the night after. Snacks are addicting, after all, but what happens when a treat becomes a habit?

Well, first and foremost – sugar makes you fat. Duh! That’s been common knowledge for decades, but did you know that your liver processes sugar the same way it does alcohol? That means you can contract the same liver disease as alcoholics just from too much sugar! If that isn’t bad enough, frequent overconsumption of sugar over a period of months or years can exhaust different elements of your endocrine system, causing chronic sleep disorders, insulin resistance, kidney disease, and a host of other metabolic disorders that won’t just ruin your day – they could ruin your health.

What can you do? An excess of just about anything is bad for you, but when dealing with an excess of something that isn’t very good for you in the first place, moderation is definitely important. You don’t have to give up sweets entirely (unless you’re diabetic), but if a life without sweets just isnt’ a life worth living to you, then you’ll have to set limits for yourself. Reading nutrition labels is important, because the recommended serving sizes aren’t just printed on food packaging for the company’s health – it’s there for your health! Find it, read it, and heed it. If a serving size is three candies and you’ve just devoured ten of them, obviously it’s time to re-evaluate your nutrition goals. Remember, if your body is a temple, you don’t want to bring junk into it.

Resident word nerd and nap enthusiast. Committed to exploring the science in sleep and boldly snoozing where no one has snoozed before. ...that is when he's not exploring the bottom of his coffee cup or examining his eyelids at his desk. -_-zzz

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