Today’s post is not about the commonly known dangers of sugar or how to break the sugar addiction. We will discuss cutting out sugar in another post, but today I wanted to bring to light another negative aspect that sugar causes that is not discussed as often and many do not know about. The connection between sugar and sleep, or rather the lack of restful, restorative sleep. Do you have trouble getting your children to sleep? Do they get the recommended number of hours of sleep, but still seem to be tired and dragging the next morning? Has your pediatrician mentioned that sugar may be the culprit? Do you wonder why you are lacking energy every morning even when you got a 6-8 hour night in? Honestly, I knew about the dangers of sugar, have studied the nutritional (or rather lack of) aspect of sugar, etc, but never really put the sleep/sugar connection together until I read an article that one of my daughter’s teachers sent home the other day. Eye opening!
One of the key components in any of us achieving a good night’s sleep has to do with our liver. Yes, our liver. Not an organ that typically comes to mind when you think of body parts that contribute to sleep is it? But in truth, many of our livers are working hard to regulate our energy level for the upcoming day and perhaps are working overtime due to the way we treat it the night before. Our bodies are designed in such a way that beginning in the early evening and continuing overnight when we are sleeping, our livers are actually prepping for the amount of energy we will have for the following day. By being able to rest overnight and therefore store up some glycogen (sugar) to have available for use in the morning, our livers help aid in our feelings of contentment and give us energy.
Unfortunately, we tend to not think about our livers and therefore send them in to overdrive every evening, expect them to work overtime through the night and then get a lack of restorative sleep, wake up cranky, tired and eventually, after enough sleepless nights, sink into some level of depression. We force our liver to process large meals high in fat and protein, often late at night rather than giving it the necessary time it needs to prepare for the next day. By staying up late snacking, watching tv, working on projects for work or trying to get some cleaning done after the kids go to bed, we are forcing our liver to use the sugars it was producing for the next day tonight. Now it does not have the time to replenish all of those needed sugars during the night, so the next day our body panics, and begins producing those dreaded stress hormones to get us through the day. Stress hormones are bad if relied upon day after day…it leads to weight gain, increased blood pressure, increased blood sugars, decreases our immune system.
Ever notice that if your children are not in bed and asleep by a certain time every night then they get a second wind and are up WAY past their bedtime? No? Just my kids? Probably not, I have heard the complaint from to many parents for it to just be my kids that are like this. One of the reasons for this is because we as Americans tend to eat dinner as our largest meal of the day and the time we eat it seems to be getting later and later. Therefore, our children’s livers are not getting to start resting and preparing for the next day when it needs too. We are feeding it, telling it to work overtime to process this meal and then getting frustrated when it does its job and gives our kids bursts of energy at 8 pm! Perhaps we should start rethinking the way we eat meals…the times and amounts of food. I know with a little brainstorming, planning and family discussion there is a way to help combat the problem of an over worked liver and restorative sleep.
Just as each home and family are different, each solution to this issue will be different. Maybe evenings are crazy at your house – would having a smaller, less complex meal cut down on that? What if you were able to eat dinner a little earlier? Perhaps breakfast becomes the largest meal of your day or lunch. Instead of family dinners try family breakfast. Don’t buy into the stereotype that you can only eat certain foods for breakfast or lunch or dinner. One of my kids brought this to my attention years ago by asking why waffles could only be eaten for breakfast. It reminded me that every once in awhile we would have Belgian waffles for dinner on Sundays complete with strawberries and whipped cream. We questioned why any food has to be eaten at one meal or another and now regularly eat crepes/eggs/pancakes at dinnertime and leftovers for breakfast. Ok, so maybe you won’t be able to get pizza delivered at 7 am for your morning meal, but homemade pizza is better anyways. 😉
Like all things, making changes to the way our family operates from day to day, or what we eat will take time. Please don’t get discouraged. Start small. Take your time. Plan it out together and implement it in a way that works for your family. We are all different. Even just ending the cycle of eating past a certain time will be a step in the right direction. Try something out for a month and see if you notice a difference. Make changes based on that. Remember: Baby steps are better than no steps. Sleep is far to important for everyone to not try and improve it in some way.
As always, I would love to hear from you! Comment below or drop me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know what works for you & your family!
Want to read the article on sleep & your liver? click here