You may not think a Dietitian would talk to you at length about your sleeping habits. After all, you came to figure out how to best eat for optimal health. What does sleep have to do with it?

A lot.

How you live your life beyond the food will affect your food choices and overall health. You need to first meet you basic self-care needs before you can expect yourself to make conscious food choices.

Basic needs such as sleep!

According to the Center for Disease and Control, 1 in 3 Americans don’t get the recommended hours of sleep, which is a minimum of 7 hours a night.

I get it! Those extra hours can be put to good use so why squander them, right? The late night hours seem to be the perfect down time to get work done, relax with netflix, study for exams, browse social media, or go out on the town.

Here is the problem: you wake up the next day, after going to bed at 2 a.m., and hold yourself to the expectation of making mindful healthy food choices. However, you find you are hungrier than usual, irritable, have cravings and reach for foods that don’t make you feel good. You may be wondering… what’s wrong with me?!

Well, it may just be sleep deprivation!  

Here is how sleep deprivation affects your food choices:

Your Circadian Rhythm

Your circadian rhythm is your body’s internal clock, one that follows its own cycle of physiological processes set to different times of the day. It is what tells you that you are tired and need to go sleep and what causes you to wake up in the morning when the sun shines through the curtains. In a perfect world, if we follow our circadian rhythm then our bodies would stay in sync with its set functions and operate at its best. However, nowadays we have too many distractions that interrupt our circadian rhythm. We override it’s message that we are in dire need of sleep!

When your body is not aligned with your internal clock then it’s set functions turn into a mess. It will impact hormone regulation, brain function, and  blood sugar levels, all of which affect eating habits and overall health.

Hormonal Changes Affect Appetite

Sleep deprivation impacts your appetite hormones, ghrelin and leptin. Lack of sleep will create an increase in ghrelin, the hunger hormone, and decrease in leptin, the satiety hormone.  As a result, you end up hungrier and less satisfied and therefore driven to eat more.

In addition, sleep deprivation can promote inflammation and chronic stress on the body, which increases production of Cortisol, your stress hormone. Cortisol will make you crave carbohydrates, preferably in it’s refined form! So you’re likely to be on the prowl for that quick sweet fix the next day.

Blood Sugar gets Out of Whack

Studies show that sleep deprivation can cause impaired glucose regulation, resulting in high and unstable blood sugars. This will increase risk of developing insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone that acts as a “key” which allows glucose into our cells to be used as energy.  Insulin resistance will trigger the body to produce more insulin to compensate for your cell’s resistance. High insulin levels will create cravings, even if you are not truly hungry. It also promotes fat storage, which is why people with insulin resistance such as pre-diabetics and those with type 2 diabetes can have a difficult time losing weight.

Decision Making Abilities are Impaired

Sleep deprivation impairs cognitive function, specifically in your brain’s prefrontal cortex (PFC). Your PFC is responsible for carrying out executive functions such as decision making, problem solving, & planning. These are the very tools you need to make mindful food decisions. You’re tired and your brain feels hazy, which means you are much more inclined to go for what’s easy, such as the cookies on the counter, than to prepare a meal.

Late Night Snacking

I never recommend to go to bed hungry. But if you are not getting enough sleep you are up more hours. Pair that with heightened cravings due to increased cortisol & unstable blood sugars as well as impaired decision making abilities and you have a recipe for late night overeating at its best.

Bottom Line...

Heightened and consistent food cravings may be a signal that self-care is lacking. You need to meet your basic self-care needs if you want to be able to live a truly health-conscious life. Therefore, sleep needs to be made a priority by making sure you get adequate sleep, which is 7 to 9 hours a night. Once you do you’ll likely find you have less cravings, feel more focused, energized, and are able to be more mindful around food.

Here are some tips to help you get enough sleep:

  1. Turn off electronics at least one hour before bedtime. Your circadian rhythm is influenced by light and darkness. Bright stimulating lights will interfere with your sleep pattern and quality of sleep. Allow our body time to adjust to its natural sleep pattern by keeping bright lights away as bedtime draws near.
  2. Get into a routine. Read a book a half hour before you go to bed, sit down for a cup of decaf tea, or write in a journal. Whatever it is, create a routine that will make you look forward to bedtime and help make an early bedtime a habit.
  3. Prioritize. Life will give you a million reasons to stay up late – the laundry, work, your favorite TV show, parties, the list goes on… Life happens and we sometimes have events we just can’t miss such as weddings, date night, or that laundry pile is getting too high. Occasionally, a late night can happen. No need to fret about it. Just make sure you make sleep a priority and choose those late nights wisely and sparingly.

Are you an Emotional Eater? 

Learn why you may be over eating and what you can do about with my guide:

3 Steps to Overcome Emotional Eating!

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