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Sleepless Nights, Bigger Bites: The Science Behind How Sleep Influences Your Eating Habits

Photo of bedroom furniture. A green bedspread covers the bed with several unused pillows and a purple throw blanket
Sleepless nights impact our snacking habits. Read on to learn how!

Can a restless night lead to unwanted pounds on the scale? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Studies have shown a clear link between insufficient sleep and weight gain. Research suggests that sleep-deprived individuals consume an average of 385 more calories per day than those who get adequate sleep! This translates to a significant increase in calorie intake over time, potentially leading to weight gain.

Hormonal Havoc

Part of this connection is the disruption of two essential appetite-regulating hormones: leptin and ghrelin. Leptin, often called the "satiety hormone," signals fullness to your brain, letting you know you've had enough to eat. Ghrelin, on the other hand, acts as the "hunger hormone," sending signals to your brain when you're due for a meal. Sadly, when we don't get enough sleep, these hormones take a joyride in opposite directions.

The Hunger Games

Specifically, a lack of sleep can decrease leptin levels by 18%. This means you won't feel as satisfied after eating, leaving you constantly searching for that elusive feeling of fullness. As if that weren't bad enough, ghrelin levels actually increase by up to 28% when you're sleep-deprived. Imagine ghrelin as a persistent voice in your head whispering, "You're hungry! Eat more!" It's no wonder you reach for extra snacks throughout the day (and perhaps even late at night) when these hormonal signals are out of whack.

But it's not just the amount you eat that changes with sleep deprivation; it's also what you crave. Studies have demonstrated that sleep restriction increases the desire for high-calorie and sugary carbohydrate foods. Imagine waking up after a restless night with a powerful craving for a donut instead of your usual bowl of oatmeal with berries. This shift in food preferences can be attributed to changes in the brain's reward centers, which make unhealthy options appear more appealing when you're sleep-deprived.

The Two-Way Street of Sleep and Diet

The relationship between sleep and food is a two-way street. Research indicates that poor dietary choices, such as consuming excessive sugar and low fiber, can disrupt sleep patterns. For example, a study found that individuals who consumed diets high in sugar and low in fiber experienced more fragmented sleep and spent less time in restorative deep sleep stages. Consider how indulging in a heavy, greasy meal close to bedtime can disrupt sleep. After enjoying a late-night pizza and soda combo, you might toss and turn all night, experiencing heartburn and discomfort. This disrupted sleep can lead to more cravings for unhealthy foods the next day, perpetuating a cycle of poor sleep and unhealthy eating habits.

Sleep Smart, Eat Smart

The good news is that improving sleep quality can profoundly impact body weight regulation. Research suggests that increasing sleep duration by just one hour per night can decrease the risk of obesity by 14%. Prioritizing sleep hygiene and establishing consistent sleep patterns can positively influence your eating habits and overall health. Imagine committing to a consistent sleep schedule, going to bed, and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends. As a result, you will feel more energized and alert during the day, making it easier to resist unhealthy food cravings and make better dietary choices. Over time, this improved sleep quality and healthier eating habits will lead to gradual weight loss and improved overall well-being.

The Upshot

Understanding how sleep impacts appetite-regulating hormones and food preferences can help us make informed choices about prioritizing sleep for long-term health and well-being. Remember, a good night's sleep is not just a luxury; it's a powerful tool for managing weight and promoting overall health!

Want more? Download my essential checklist today “3 Secrets to optimize sleep habits and support weight loss” and take charge of your health and vitality!

The Science Behind How Sleep Influences Your Eating Habits - Checklist
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All content of this blog is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this blog.

Kelly Sherman, MS, NC, CGP, CPT Provision Nutrition & Wellness

Kelly Sherman, MS, NC, CGP, CPT, is a licensed nutritionist specializing in empowering women to reclaim their health by cutting through misinformation and ditching the diet culture. She has a master’s degree in nutrition and is degreed in exercise science as well as a certified personal trainer. With over 20 years of experience in the field, she combines the best of both nutrition and exercise sciences to best help her clients reach their potential. To nourish is to flourish!

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