They found that when a group of people who slept less than seven hours a night were helped to get an average of just 21 minutes extra shut-eye, they cut their intake of unhealthy "free", or added, sugars by nearly 10g - a third of their daily allowance. "As a guide we should be aiming for around eight hours of sleep a night", said Victoria Taylor, a senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation. It is believed sleep deprivation makes brain cells react more strongly to unhealthy food, driving us to indulge in comfort eating.
Free sugars are sugars that are added to foods by manufacturers or in cooking at home, as well as sugars in honey, syrups, and fruit juice.
Half of the group underwent a "sleep hygiene" programme that involved a 45-minute appointment with a consultant with the aim of extending their sleep by between 1 and 1.5 hours a night.
The researchers found that those who extended their sleep reduced their free sugar consumption by 10 grams when compared to baseline levels, along with a decrease in carbohydrate consumption.
And they also cut down on their carb intake.
All of the participants were asked to record their sleep and dietary patterns for seven days. All the participants had a motion sensor on their wrists which kept a record of their sleeping hours and also record the amount of time they spent in bed before sleeping.
There was some evidence that sleep quality deteriorated in the sleep extension group, which the researchers attribute to a change of routine.
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The group has provided a chart which contained some suggestions to get better sleep.
The team suggested that any new sleep routine will take some time to get used to.
Lead researcher Haya Al-Khatib from the Department of Nutritional Sciences said: "Sleep duration and quality is an area of increasing public health concern and has been linked as a risk factor for various conditions". We have shown that sleeping customs can also be changed using relative simplicity in healthy older people utilizing a lively approach.
'Our results also suggest that increasing time in bed for an hour or so longer may lead to healthier food choices. "This further strengthens the link between short sleep and poorer quality diets that has already been observed by previous studies".
According to researchers at King's College London, Sleep-deprived people who sleep for longer in bed are less likely to pick sugary treats.