Ask the Dentist: Sleep is key to curbing sugar cravings

Dentist Lucy Stock at Gentle Dental Care, Belfast says getting a good night's sleep can help banish sugar cravings

High-level brain regions required for complex judgments and decisions become blunted by lack of sleep

WITH the modern diet packed with sugar, teeth are under a barrage of acid attacks throughout the day, causing them to rot away.

Trying to stop eating the white stuff is difficult at the best of times but when we are tired people tend to crave even more sweet foods. Could it be that by getting the appropriate amount of sleep we can also help to curb the sugar cravings and strengthen our teeth? Well, new research seems to suggest that this is the case.

The results of an American study have shed light on how, when the brain becomes impaired by sleep deprivation, it leads to the selection of more unhealthy foods.

Researchers scanned the brains of 23 healthy young adults, first after a normal night's sleep and then after a sleepless night. They found impaired activity in the sleep-deprived brain's frontal lobe, which governs complex decision-making, but increased activity in deeper brain centres that respond to rewards. So this explains why the tired participants favoured unhealthy snacks and junk food.

“What we have discovered is that high-level brain regions required for complex judgments and decisions become blunted by a lack of sleep, while more primal brain structures that control motivation and desire are amplified,” said Matthew Walker, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley.

“High-calorie foods also became significantly more desirable when participants were sleep-deprived. This combination of altered brain activity and decision-making may help explain why people who sleep less also tend to be overweight or obese.”

On a positive note, Walker said, the findings indicate that “getting enough sleep is one factor that can help promote weight control and reduce sugar consumption by priming the brain mechanisms governing appropriate food choices".

Here are some top tips to end your sugar cravings:

:: Avoid Processed Foods.

Eating sugar and processed foods creates a vicious cycle spurred on by addiction.

:: Boost Your Serotonin.

Naturally raise levels of the "happiness hormone" through exercise, sleep, and a healthy diet; higher serotonin levels lead to fewer cravings for sweets.

:: Drink Plenty Of Water.

Your body may be craving sugar because it is dehydrated.

::Keep Your Blood Sugar Stable.

Eat several small, healthy meals throughout your day instead of three large portions to avoid dips in blood sugar.

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