When trying to maintain a healthy weight, most of us think of eating well and exercising. But an often forgotten component that can impact our habits is sleep. Beyond its other effects, lack of sleep can extensively alter the way your body responds to food.
How is sleep linked to diet? To comprehend this, the first step is understanding the physiological changes a body goes through when fatigued from lack of sleep.
YOUR BRAIN’S REWARD CENTERS ARE HEIGHTENED
Your brain’s reward centers—the putamen, nucleus accumbens, and thalamus— heighten with a lack of sleep. This increases the want for things that feel good. In turn, the late-night ice cream that is tempting on a normal night is irresistible on a night you’re tired.
YOUR BRAIN’S DECISION-MAKING ABILITIES ARE DULLED
By not getting your typical 7-9 hours of sleep, you’re potentially increasing your brain’s likeliness to make bad decisions. The frontal lobe of your brain plays a large role in impulse control and decision making. By losing sleep, you’re essentially dulling the activity in this lobe, making it harder to stick to healthy eating habits.
YOUR METABOLISM IS ALTERED
Less sleep than usual can also affect your metabolism. Consequently, this causes it to react in ways that can affect your diet and weight.
On the whole, these metabolism changes can encourage your body to burn fewer calories while hanging on to fat.
JUNK FOOD SEEMS MORE ENTICING
As mentioned early, a lack of sleep can result in a lack of impulse control. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that sleep deprivation increases your likelihood to make poor food choices. Additionally, when fatigued, high-calorie foods can feel even more rewarding.
MORE LIKELY TO LATE NIGHT SNACK
It seems obvious, but the later you stay up the more likely you are to snack at night. Unhealthy snacking at night can lead to obesity, diabetes, and weight gain.
LACK OF SLEEP MAY INCREASE YOUR APPETITE
Another contributing factor has to do with the “hunger hormones”. Studies have found that sleep deprivation can be linked to an increased appetite. How so?
Ghrelin is the hormone that signals to your brain when you’re hungry. Levels are typically high before you eat and low after you eat. When you miss out on sleep, your body makes more of the hormone, which makes you feel hungry.
Leptin is a hormone that tells your brain that you are full and suppresses hunger. When you’re fatigued, your body produces less leptin, which can leave you feeling hungry and unsatisfied.
YOU MAY CONSUME MORE CALORIES
Studies confirm that people who lack sleep are more likely to intake more calories per day. Factors include increased appetite, poor food choices, or having more snacking hours in the day. These studies also show that the additional calories are most likely consumed in the form of after-dinner snacks when you would typically be asleep.
LOW MOTIVATION FOR EXERCISING
If you got zero sleep the night before, you’re probably not incredibly motivated to get a work out in. Studies link lack of sleep to a potential decrease in the amount and intensity of physical activity the following day.
Because exercise and diet are linked in a handful of ways, this can affect how you eat. Several studies indicate that exercise or physical activity can lead to a decreased desire for fattening foods.
WHAT TO DO IF A LATE NIGHT CRAVING HITS
Now that you know all of this, how do you stop the cycle of poor sleep and an unhealthy diet? Ideally, improving your sleep is the goal, but in the meantime, try these tips.
HOW TO GET BACK ON TRACK AFTER A STRETCH OF SLEEPLESS NIGHTS
Don’t give up hope for a healthy sleep schedule. Try these steps to get your nights back on track.
SMALL CHANGES, BIG RESULTS
You’d be surprised to find just how connected the systems of the body are. Therefore, making improvements in one area can improve your health in another. When enacting these changes, start slow and don’t be hard on yourself. Additionally, it’s always a good idea to consult your doctor when making changes to your sleep, diet, exercise, or lifestyle.
Rand McClain, D.O. wrote this article for Creations Magazine. The original article can be found here.