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Health & Lifestyle

Unwrapped: The Fad Diets That Could Be Disrupting Your Sleep

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Around 42% of adults across the globe have tried to lose weight, with 44% of Brits last year choosing weight loss as a goal for 2020.

While dropping a few pounds can have a positive impact on your health, there is an increasing number of fad diets that promote some unhealthy eating habits and could be the cause of troubled slumber. 

According to Dr Deborah Lee from Dr Fox Online Pharmacy

“Sleep deprivation increases the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and dementia. One of the key underlying reasons for these grim statistics may be because of lack of sleep results in changes in the levels of the hunger hormones - leptin, and ghrelin.”

MattressNextDay has investigated 12 of the most popular diets in the UK. Using MyFitnessPal, we analysed a typical meal plan for 1 day for an average adult on each of these diets. We then collated the data which shows the breakdown of nutrients in each diet to see which ones could be having a negative impact on your sleep. 

How Fad Diets Could Be Disrupting Your Sleep And Hurting Your Health

While many diets promote a reduction in calories, fat, carbohydrates, and sodium and some diets encourage an increase in protein, too much of a deficit or increase can actually be bad for you too and have a negative effect on your sleep often depriving us of the length and quality of sleep we need. Dr Deborah Lee of Dr Fox Online Pharmacy says, “sleep deprivation increases the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer. and dementia. One of the key underlying reasons for these grim statistics may be because lack of sleep results in changes in the levels of the hunger hormones - leptin, and ghrelin.” 

Almost all of the diets in our investigation could be classed as “fad diets”. These are diets that usually promote quick weight loss and involve restrictive eating plans with unhealthy food behaviours like weighing all food, counting calories and writing down everything you eat. You’ll normally find them promoted by celebrities too, but with little to no real scientific evidence that they work. They can have dire effects on your sleep and continued poor quality sleep puts you at risk of many medical conditions. 

The Dukan Diet Could Increase Insomnia Due To A 97% Reduction In Sugar

In our study, the typical day of meals we examined for The Dukan Diet only had 3g of sugar, a far cry from the recommended maximum of 90g set by the NHS. Sugar has gained a terrible reputation in recent years. In fact, you could say it’s become public enemy number one.

It’s no surprise then that too much sugar is linked to restless and disrupted sleep, but did you know that too little sugar can also have an adverse effect? 

The zero sugar approach often comes from celebrities and bloggers. There are no scientific studies that recommend cutting out sugar altogether. In fact if you do, as well as cutting down on carbs, (which can be a by product of low carb Dukan Diet), you will likely experience a range of mental and emotional symptoms including anxiety, insomnia, difficulty concentrating and cravings. So it’s no wonder your sleep can suffer as a result. Balance is the key.

The South Beach Diet had the lowest number of carbohydrates in a typical day. Just 9% of the minimum amount recommended by the NHS. This is during the initial phase however, when carbs are severely restricted.

We found many cases online of people reporting that they were waking up several times through the night while on the South Beach Diet and were then unable to fall back asleep. This can be down to the lack of carbs and being hungry. Carbs may boost tryptophan and serotonin, two brain chemicals involved in sleep and this was supported in research from Dr Chin-Moi Chow at the University of Sydney, which found that carbohydrates that with a high glycemic index hastened sleep. 

You can also experience digestive issues if you are eating more vegetables and protein than you are used to.

Margaret Bell, a transformation health coach from Naturally Empowered Health says

“Eating a lot of protein can affect sleeping patterns as high protein can take longer to digest. Depending on how late you're eating, you could be setting yourself up for a fall as your digestive system slows down overnight. The later you eat, the less chance you have for it to be digested and that leads to a disturbed sleeping pattern.”

Fat Chance: The Macrobiotic Diet Reduces Fat By 87%, Causing You To Feel The Cold More And Increasing Mental Fatigue

The NHS recommended allowance for fat is a maximum of 70g per day. The Macrobiotic Diet came up short by 87%, with only 9g in a typical day. But what does this mean for your sleep?

If you’re feeling cold and mentally fatigued a lot, then the problem could be that you’re not getting enough fat. A study from 2011 found that calorie restriction caused a reduction in both day and night time core body temperature. 

Less body fat also means less insulation from the cold, which is why your tolerance to cool environments can decrease when losing weight. Feeling cold and mentally fatigued can, in turn, cause disrupted sleep and insomnia. 

In the past, fat has been given a bad rap, but it actually has lots of important roles in the body. Low-fat diets (particularly when low in omega-3 fatty acids) have been linked to poorer quality sleep, because these fatty acids are needed to produce serotonin, which is then converted to our ‘sleep hormone’ melatonin and so helps us to get a good night’s sleep. We also need fat in our diet to absorb certain nutrients, such as vitamins A, D, E and K. These nutrients all play a role in a healthy body, but higher levels of vitamin D are especially important for healthy sleep as it’s also required for the production of serotonin.

Margaret from Empowered Health also warns to,

“Be wary of low-fat alternatives, as they may seem like a healthier option, but they are usually high in sugar.” 

We looked at some of the products you might buy in your weekly shop to see if this was true.

The Sugar Content Of Low or Reduced Fat Products Vs Full Fat Products.

FoodSugar (g) per 100g in Low Fat VersionSugar (g) per 100g in Full Fat Version% difference
Greek Style Yogurt5.45.31.89%
Strawberry Yogurt 1210.712.15%
Supermarket Own Brand Extra Crunchy Coleslaw 5.94.628.26%
Supermarket Own Brand Smooth Peanut Butter 14.87.4100.00%

The South Beach Diet also, along with the Dukan Diet, contains the highest amount of protein out of the 12 diets we analysed. At 92g on a typical day, that’s almost double the NHS recommended intake of 50g. Protein is essential for nutrients that contribute to every cell in the body and so high protein diets have seen an increase in popularity. There’s been a 178% hike in searches for “high protein meals” over the past 5 years. 

Although 92g is still considered below dangerous levels, like anything, too much of a good thing can still cause issues. If you have a sudden increase of protein, you may find you become nauseous as your body adjusts. A high protein diet also brings with it a higher chance of kidney stones and constipation, neither of which are conducive to a good night’s sleep. 

Protein also increases levels of tyrosine, an amino acid that triggers the production of stimulating, alerting brain chemicals. Decreasing serotonin by reducing carbs while increasing chemicals that elevate alertness, as happens with The South Beach Diet, may result in problems getting to and staying asleep. 

The Alkaline Diet had the least calories per day than any of the others we looked at in our investigation, totaling just 576. While this might be slightly higher if you had larger portion sizes or added in some snacks, the number was disturbingly low when compared to the NHS recommended amount for an adult. It was just over a quarter of the favoured 2,000 calories per day.

The Alkaline diet works on the theory that some foods, like meat, refined sugar, wheat, and processed foods, cause your body to produce acid. Eating specific foods that can make your body more alkaline can protect against those conditions as well as lose weight. 

Restricting calories this severely for a long time, however, can have lasting negative effects, including fatigue and nutrient deficiencies. 

The Atkins Diet Cuts Sodium By 51% Increasing The Chance Of A Fitful Sleep

In our investigation, The Atkins Diet reduced sodium intake by 51%. It also promotes protein and restricts carbohydrates. This keeps insulin levels low, which is great for burning fat, but not so good for retaining sodium. The diet acts like a diuretic, meaning whatever sodium you do ingest, you’re likely to pee out.

While cutting down on sodium is usually a good thing, there are negative side effects if you don’t consume enough.

So what happens when you don’t get enough sodium?

Low sodium may cause insomnia because of the increase of stress hormone that results from the low carb, high protein diet. A study by Dr. Vitiello, Director of the Sleep and Aging Research Program at the University of Washington in Seattle, also found that low sodium diets can cause fitful sleep. 

Margaret Bell agrees.

“Low sodium issues are more common with the elderly and can lead to seizures but it can also cause fatigue and lethargy, which then could cause people to reach for high energy or sugar-rich food.”

The Best Diets To Follow In 2021

If you still feel the need to start the new year with a healthier outlook, then our study highlighted two diets that had little to no complaints online and a strong scientific backing. 

The Mediterranean Diet Could Improve Your Sleep

The Mediterranean diet is low in red meat, sugar and saturated fat and high in fruit, vegetables, nuts and other healthy foods. In a study on 1,936 Italian adults, it was found that those who ate a Meditteranean diet were much more likely to sleep well compared to those who did not. 

Individuals fell asleep faster, slept for longer and slept more efficiently, so they were less tired through the day. 

The DASH Diet Could Cure Your Insomnia

A study in 2019 of adolescent girls aged 12-18, found that a DASH diet was associated with lower odds of insomnia.

The DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is usually advised to help prevent and control high blood pressure. Similar to the Mediterranean diet, it includes lots of heart healthy foods such as whole grains, nuts, low and nonfat dairy, vegetables and fruits. 

Tips For Good Health And Even Better Sleep

All of the experts we spoke to have some great advice on staying healthy and improving your sleep. We curated their top 5 tips. 

1. Balance

The festive season is a time for celebrating and whilst it’s still unclear at this point exactly how we’ll get to spend it, for many people this may involve sharing delicious food and drink with family and friends. Many of us get to January and feel as though we’ve overdone it but if that’s you, don’t feel guilty! Balance is the key and that means not starving yourself severely if you’ve over indulged for a couple of days, as this can to lead to a cycle of overeating and restriction. 

2. Smart Snacking

January is a fresh start - the happy memories of an indulgent December behind us, we can move our focus to (equally delicious) balanced meals that centre around fresh, seasonal vegetables, protein and a healthy source of fat. By balancing our meals in this way, we support healthy blood sugar levels and give ourselves the energy we need, whilst keeping ourselves fuller for longer.  

Choose snacks with high fibre and protein with help keep you full for longer too. Try whole grain crackers with cottage cheese or strawberries dipped in natural yogurt.

3. Increasing Vegetable Intake

Try to add one or two portions of vegetables to every meal to ensure you’re eating a wide range of vitamins, minerals and fibre. Seasonal is always best, as they’re so much fresher - and in January we can enjoy beetroot, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, leeks, parsnips and squash. Give the approaches above a go and you’ll be feeling healthier and happier in no time - all in a sustainable way that will be easy to maintain throughout the year.

4. Reduce Convenience Foods

Much of the added sugar we come across in our diets is found in convenience foods. Reduce your intake of these and you’ll naturally reduce your sugar intake too. If you usually have sugar throughout the day, then you'll go through highs and lows as your system experiences a rush followed by a crash.  Margaret Bell, a transformational health coach from Naturally Empowered Health says that “this causes stress on your body. Slow releasing food, such as beans, pulses, nuts, wholegrains and vegetables are a much better option.” 

5. Don’t Diet!

Everyone is different so what works for one person might not work for another. As Margaret says, “if diets worked, there wouldn’t be a diet industry.” Diets always involve some form of deprivation and if the body is deprived, it craves whatever you’re depriving it of. Therefore you‘re more likely to binge, feel guilty and the whole cycle starts again” Margaret advises following the 80/20 rule. “80% of the time eat nutritious dense food and 20% of the time, allow yourself to have the things you might be craving.” This way you are less likely to feel deprived and binge.

For tips on foods that will help you sleep or more information on common sleep disorders, check out our advice section.  

An image of the author, Martin Seeley, Senior Sleep Expert Martin Seeley, Senior Sleep Expert Bio & articles

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