Whether you know them as sodas, pop, coke, or by another name, carbonated soft drinks are widely consumed throughout the U.S. According to recent data, 63% of youths and 49% of adults consume at least one of these beverages on any given day. Soft drinks are also considered the most common source of added sugar in the average American’s diet. Despite their popularity, soft drinks have been linked to a myriad of health problems, including weight gain and obesity, type 2 diabetes, tooth decay, and diseases of the heart, kidneys, and liver.
Studies show soft drinks may also decrease sleep duration for both adults and children. This is especially true for people who consume caffeinated beverages. Furthermore, soft drinks can have an indirect effect on sleep quality because these beverages have been linked to certain patterns – such as less exercise during the day and more screen time at night – that potentially interfere with natural sleep cycles.
How Does Soda Affect Sleep?
Soft drinks are considered sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs). Sweeteners may include brown sugar, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, and glucose. In addition to soft drinks, certain juices and fruit drinks, sports and energy drinks, and coffees and teas with added sugars are all considered SSBs.
Researchers have pinpointed a few reasons why soft drinks impact sleep. These include:
Caffeine: Caffeinated soft drinks, along with coffee and tea, comprise 96% of the country’s beverage caffeine consumption, and roughly 85% of the U.S. population drinks at least one caffeinated beverage every day.
Caffeine increases alertness, so consuming a caffeinated beverage close to bedtime can make falling and staying asleep more difficult. One study found that consumption of caffeinated SSBs was 33% higher for adults who sleep five or fewer hours per night, and 15% higher for people who sleep six or fewer hours per night, compared to those who receive the recommended seven to eight hours.
Moderate amounts of caffeine during the day are not necessarily unhealthy. Shift workers who must be alert at night can also get a much-needed boost from caffeinated beverages. However, the effects of caffeine take several hours to wear off and you should avoid these drinks leading up to your usual bedtime.
Weight Gain: The relationship between SSB intake and obesity is well-documented. Studies suggest these beverages can lead to weight gain due in part to their high sugar content. A 12-ounce soft drink serving may contain anywhere from 10 to 13.5 teaspoons of sugar, so these beverages can have a significant impact on your blood glucose level.
Low-calorie counts may also be to blame. Most 12-ounce soft drinks contain 150-170 calories, so even though they contribute extra sugar to a person’s diet, they do not produce feelings of satiety. As a result, people may need to eat more to compensate for this deficit.
Obesity can increase your risk for certain sleep disorders. Excess body weight is considered the major predisposing factor for obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that causes people to wake up choking or gasping for air throughout the night.
Another condition, obesity hypoventilation syndrome (OHS), causes shallow breathing during sleep and can lead to feelings of excessive daytime sleepiness. As its name suggests, OHS occurs in people with a body mass index of at least 30 kilograms per square meter, which falls within the 95th percentile for adults.
Additionally, weight gain can make you more likely to snore, and this may disrupt sleep for you and your partner. People who experience chronic snoring are often advised to lose weight.
Heartburn: Heartburn occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter – a band of muscle near the bottom of the esophagus – does not constrict enough after you consume foods or drinks. This can cause stomach acid to re-enter the esophagus, which is known as reflux. Many people experience occasional heartburn, but frequent symptoms may indicate a more serious condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
The discomfort of heartburn can easily disrupt sleep, so people who frequently experience heartburn may want to avoid foods and drinks that trigger these symptoms. One study found that consuming SSBs and other carbonated beverages increases your risk of heartburn symptoms that disrupt sleep by 24%.
Nocturia: Nocturia refers to the need to urinate in the middle of the night, which in turn can disrupt your sleep. Roughly one-third of adults experience nocturia. While underlying medical conditions and other factors such as medication can lead to nocturia, drinking soda before going to sleep – particularly caffeinated SSBs – may also cause nighttime trips to the bathroom.
It’s also important to note that the relationship between sleep and SSBs may be bidirectional. Some studies have shown sleep loss can lead to biological and behavioral changes that influence the food and drinks we consume. Lack of sleep can also affect hormones that regulate appetite such as ghrelin and leptin, causing you to feel hungrier and consume more during the day.
How Can Soda Drinkers Improve Their Sleep?
Since SSBs carry little nutritional value, and because they can disrupt sleep and lead to other medical complications, studies suggest reducing SSB intake carries health benefits. However, many people crave sugary foods and drinks and struggle with lowering the amount of sugar they consume.
If you’re trying to cut down on soft drinks and improve your sleep, the following tips may be helpful:
- Substitute soft drinks with cold water. This accomplishes the twofold task of reducing the amount of sugar you consume and improving your overall hydration.
- If you need something more flavorful than water, opt for a healthy alternative such as milk or 100% fruit juice. You can also flavor your water with natural ingredients such as berries or cucumbers, rather than sweetening with sugar.
- If you need a caffeine boost in the morning, forgo sodas and switch to unsweetened coffee or tea. Avoid all caffeinated beverages in the afternoon and evening. This will help you fall asleep at your normal bedtime.
- Check nutritional labels on all drinks you consume to ensure they don’t contain high amounts of sugar or caffeine.
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