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More Sleep! Struggling to sleep leaves us exhausted the next day - but we shouldn''t use it as an excuse eat junk food...


Tossing and turning, Paola Bassanese, 42, couldn't sleep thanks to worrying about paying the bills. Exhausted the next day, the first thing she reached for was a sugary coffee, quickly followed by a big bar of chocolate for a morning snack.

Throughout the day she craved cakes too, to keep her going.

After just a few months Paola had piled on 1.5st, but her experiences are not unusual.

Sleep deprivation can increase cravings for junk food according to a report from the University of California.

Researchers discovered a poor night's sleep affects the brain's frontal lobe, which governs difficult decision-making but increases activity in deeper parts of the brain that respond to rewards. So high-calorie treats become desirable when you are tired.

Something Paola of London could relate to. During her work as a massage therapist (, she always talks to clients about healthy eating but found she wasn't practising what she preached.

She says, 'I'd fall asleep by 1am and then wake at 3am or 4am and so I ended up exhausted. I knew chocolate and cake would make things worse but struggled to stop myself from reaching for quick fixes.'

The combination of brain-activity changes results in people who struggle with their sleep often being overweight. Eating and behavioral therapist James Lamper from Weight Matters says many of his overweight clients sleep badly.

He says, 'Lack of sleep affects the paraysympathetic nervous system resulting in a drop of the hormone leptin, which promotes the release of fat from fat cells. This means we don't use fat as a fuel source.' James explains we crave carbohydrates for quick-fix energy but spikes and then slumps in blood sugar levels leave us feeling more tired. Drinking too much alcohol can also affect our sleep patterns, causing insomnia and leaving us craving junk in the mornings.

He says, 'We have disrupted sleep patterns when we get a second spike of insulin at night and wake with low blood-sugar levels as well as suffering lack of sleep. This dual effect leaves us reaching for quick fixes.' New mums often find themselves piling baby weight back on thanks to disrupted sleep. Kat McKenzie, 32, of Manchester, said she put on half a stone in three weeks when her 11-month-old son Adam started waking every few hours at night.

She says, 'I was only getting four hours' broken sleep per night and straight away my diet suffered. I was desperate to eat bread, toast, pasta and biscuits, whatever I could to get me through the day. I've heard of many new mums losing the weight but then regaining it when their babies start waking at night with teething or whatever. It's hard to control your intake.

'My other son was a good sleeper and I shed lots quickly, but lack of sleep has a profound effect on my diet and how I cope.' Researchers have also found if you're a sleepless night owl or up with the larks it affects our health and personalities. Scientists at the University of Surrey discovered there are two versions of a gene known as Period-3 affecting 'sleep pressure'. The 'long version' of the gene means you're a morning person and the short version a night lover.

Not only are night owls more likely to snore and suffer sleep apnoea, which causes poor sleep, but they are likely to eat later at night. In one study of obese volunteers, half were morning types and half were evening types. But the evenings types consumed twice as many calories after 8pm, on average 677 compared to 299 with the larks.

One study showed just a week of a sleep shortage (classed as four hours a night) can result in consuming 40 per cent more carbs.

Paola says she struggled to break her carb and sugar habit and took drastic action.

She says, 'I needed to stop as the weight was out of control and my willpower was zero. I decided to take up meditation to try and balance my mind a little and it made a huge difference.

'And by laying off the sugar I found my sleep patterns improved massively. It is a vicious circle but it is possible to break out.'


Paola had to cut out sugar

James believes in good sleep
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Sep 8, 2013
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