Why We Crave Junk Food When We’re Sleep Deprived

Making healthy food choices begins long before you’re standing in the kitchen looking for a snack. It starts the minute your head hits the pillow. A good night’s rest, that’s a full seven to eight hours of sleep, contributes to your body’s ability to release and recognize the hormones that make you feel full.


Sleep Deprivation Alters the Release of Hormones

When you don’t get enough sleep (1) , the body releases key hormones in different ways than when you are fully rested. Studies have shown that hormones like ghrelin and leptin are released in different amounts when the body doesn’t get enough rest. The results are an increase in hunger that doesn’t correlate with how much energy is being used, which means you eat more and gain weight.


At some point in history, this change in hormones made sense. If the body was tired, it needed more energy so that it could get somewhere safe to rest. But today, with prepared food readily available, this biological response to sleep deprivation means many exhausted people reach for food when what they really need is sleep.


Lack of Sleep Changes Your Food Cravings

Not only does lack of sleep change your hormone levels, but it also changes the kind of food you crave. Sleep deprivation (2) causes the body to crave carbohydrates. Many people crave highly-processed carbohydrates, not the complex carbohydrates that contribute to a healthy diet.


Sleep deprivation also changes when you have those cravings. When you function on little sleep, food cravings come in the evening after dinner when your body and mind are the most tired. Your resistance is down, your body thinks it needs more energy, and you end up eating food you might otherwise skip.


Make Sleep a Priority

High-quality sleep in the right amounts is crucial to a healthy eating plan. Developing good sleep hygiene, those behaviors that contribute to a good night’s rest can help your body regulate the release of hunger hormones and help you take control of your eating. Here are a few tips you can use to get the rest you need:

  • Consistent Sleep Schedule. Your body starts waking itself up and getting ready for bed hours before you actually open or close your eyes. Consistent bed and wake times (even on weekends) are critical to helping your body regulate its circadian rhythms (3), those processes your body goes through at the same times every day.

  • Check Your Mattress. An aching back or shoulder caused by the wrong mattress can wake you up during the night or keep you tossing and turning so you don’t get the deep sleep you need. A mattress that fits your sleep preference (4) --back, side, stomach--or that’s softer like a memory foam mattress may help you get better rest. Test mattresses of different firmness and design to find one that meets your individual needs.

  • Create the Right Environment. Your bedroom should be your sanctuary, even more so if you have trouble sleeping. A room temperature of 65-72 degrees is comfortable for most people, but you may need it to be colder. The body naturally lowers its body temperature at night, and a cool room helps hold that lower temperature. Complete darkness or dim lighting trigger the body to start to shut down for the night. If possible, reduce noise as much as you can. If complete silence doesn’t work for you, white noise is an alternative that helps the body and mind relax.

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26612385

2. http://www.pnas.org/content/110/14/5695.full#sec-7

3. https://www.nigms.nih.gov/education/pages/Factsheet_CircadianRhythms.aspx

4. https://www.bestmattressreviews.com/choose-mattress-buyers-guide/



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