The BBC Sleep Challenge, which aired on May 11th of this year, was a documentary led by Dr Michael Mosley, who aimed to reduce not only his own sleeping issues, but also to help combat the sleep epidemic that the UK is suffering from. At the moment is has been estimated that just 22% of British adults are getting their recommended hours of sleep at night!

The documentary involved a study conducted by Dr Eleanor Scott, who works at the University of Leeds. Volunteers were fitted with both activity monitors and continuous glucose monitors, that would measure a person’s blood sugar every five minutes.

What We Learned from the BBC Sleep ChallengeThe volunteers where instructed to sleep normally for two nights as this would provide a personal baseline for each volunteer that could be used in comparison for further nights on the study. The volunteers were then asked to spend two nights going to bed three hours later than normal and then the next two nights sleeping for as long as they wished. Dr Michael Mosley chose to be one of these volunteers.

So, what were the results?

A Lack of Sleep Makes You Hungry

There was one very common theme from all the volunteers after the nights where they were deprived of sleep – they all had hunger pangs. One volunteer was so desperate for a sugar kick that he ate ten custard creams, something which he’s never done at breakfast before.

All the volunteers, whether they did eat extra or stuck to their normal diet, definitely experienced extra hungry, and this was echoed in their blood sugar levels. All individuals had a significant increase in their blood sugar levels and some individuals (who were incredibly healthy before the study) had the same levels that are common in people who are borderline type 2 diabetic. These levels all returned to normal once the individuals had a few nights of good sleep again.

Which matches evidence from other studies which has found that sleeping less than seven hours a night dramatically increases a person’s chances of becoming obese and/or developing type 2 diabetes.

When we don’t get enough sleep our hormone levels getting disrupted. This includes our appetite hormones, which become elevated when we don’t sleep long enough. This means that you’ll both feel more hungry than normal and, even worse, you’re unlikely to feel full – leading to excess snacking and calorie consumption.

In fact, a research study, conducted at the King’s College in London, found that people who are sleep deprived would eat, on average, 385 more calories than they would normally do. These calories add up over the time. Just think, a few extra pounds a month quickly adds up to nearly 2 stone weight gain a year!

Yet it’s not just the blood sugar levels that lead to overeating. When you’re sleep deprived your body goes into panic mode your body will release the stress hormone cortisol. Which is something that can cause us to overeat emotionally to make us feel better.

Researchers have also found that sleep deprivation caused the rewards section of our brain to become more active. This meant that, because we are tired, the brain would actively seek out food even when we weren’t hungry. All these combined means that it is incredibly easy to overeat when we’re tired, so it’s incredibly important to get a better night’s sleep as being overweight is linked with a multitude of dangerous diseases and conditions.

If you’re feeling like you need more sleep at night, the first thing you should do is evaluate your sleeping condition. Most important of which is your mattress. If it’s old, uncomfortable, or has damage then it’s imperative that it’s replaced. Here are just some of our favourite mattress choices: