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Let’s face it. One of the best feelings in the world is finishing up a delicious dinner, grabbing a blanket and turning on Netflix, and cozying up with a heaping bowl of your favorite ice cream for dessert. While eating ice cream on a regular basis has been known to lead to weight gain, potentially lead to long-term heart disease risk, and even negatively impact our gut microbiome, it isn’t all bad. Ice cream can also bring us some necessary nutrients like calcium, as well as bring us a bit of food-related joy from time to time.
However, there is a potential downside to eating ice cream that some people may not be aware of. One major side effect of eating ice cream, especially if you enjoy it as a dessert before bed, is that it could be disrupting your sleep.
How diet—particularly high sugar foods like ice cream—play a role in sleep quality.
Research is still being done on the relationship between what we eat and how we sleep, but many studies have found that our diets do in fact play a role in getting a good night’s rest. For example, according to a study from the Journal of the American Heart Association, diets that were of lower quality and contained higher amounts of calories (especially in the form of added sugar) were associated with poorer sleep quality.
Although these findings cover a broad link between sleep quality and diet, some recent findings have proven that added sugar is one of the main culprits in diet-related sleep problems.
In a 2019 study found in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, questionnaires and diet journals were used to discover that very few students reported having “good-quality sleep” after eating diets higher in added sugar.
A separate The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine study found a positive correlation between higher amounts of added sugar and poor sleep quality, stating specifically that added sugar leads to lighter sleep with more interruptions throughout the night.
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Why eating too much sugar may cause sleep issues.
So why does eating too much sugar result in sleep problems, exactly? One possible explanation is that eating sugar, especially before bed, can actually delay our body’s natural processing rhythms.
Because of our circadian rhythm, we experience our deepest and best sleep when our body temperatures are lowering and our melatonin levels are increasing. This usually happens later in the evening, which helps us experience deep sleep and a natural state of sleepiness.
In a study from the Journal of Biological Rhythms, a group of men with regular sleeping habits ate nighttime meals higher in carbohydrates and sugar. What they found was that their heart rates and body temperatures were elevated for up to 8 hours after their carb-heavy evening meals. This is an example of how consuming more sugar and carbohydrates slows down our circadian rhythm, which leads to poorer sleep quality.
Exactly how much sleep-disrupting sugar is in your favorite ice creams?
In just one serving of Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream, there are 36 grams of sugar and 32 grams of added sugar. You’ll also find 26 grams of sugar and 17 grams of added sugar in just one serving of Blue Bell Vanilla ice cream.
With many of the unhealthiest ice creams averaging around the same amount of sugar, you should certainly be wary of portion size when you’re eating ice cream at night and want to get a good night’s rest.
Sugar isn’t the only ingredient in ice cream keeping you up at night.
Another thing to consider when reaching for the ice cream before bed is that if you love your ice cream with extra chocolate, you could also be keeping yourself from restful sleep.
Chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine, a natural antioxidant that is known to have stimulating effects. For those who are sensitive to caffeine, eating chocolate ice cream could increase your chances of restless sleep even more.
When reaching for a carton of ice cream at the grocery store, try reading the labels to see if you can find one with lower amounts of sugar. That way you can enjoy your favorite treat and still get a good night’s sleep.
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