Hi Jess, After a bad night’s sleep, I find myself constantly reaching for junk food throughout the day. It’s like I lose control of my eating habits when I’m tired and I’m not sure why. Can you help?
We’ve all been through those nights of tossing and turning, only to be woken up by the alarm when you finally manage to nod off. Strangely, after these nights, you may feel a pull towards junk food, let’s dig into why this happens.
Before we get to the factors at play, what does the research say?
Studies suggest that when we’re sleep deprived, our brain’s hunger signals are altered, making us crave high-calorie foods. In adolescents, less shut eye has been shown to alter nutrient intake, resulting in a rise in the percentage of calories consumed from fats and an increased intake of calories from snacks.
Similarly, in a study with women aged 18-55, a decrease of 33% in sleep was linked with heightened hunger, larger portion sizes, and stronger cravings for carbohydrate-rich and fatty foods.
Well, insufficient sleep disrupts the hormones that govern appetite, the two key players being ghrelin and leptin.
Ghrelin, the ‘hunger hormone’ signals to your brain that you need to eat and refuel, while leptin, the ‘satiety hormone’ lets your brain know you’re full and satisfied.
However, these hormones are out of balance when you’re sleep deprived. There’s an increased release of ghrelin, while less leptin is present, leading to snacking, overeating and a preference for high-calorie foods.
With these hormonal shifts at play, our brain's reward centre becomes more sensitive to the pleasurable aspects of food. It’s no wonder we find ourselves naturally drawn towards choices that offer a quick dopamine release. Highly palatable foods, those sweet or salty snacks, fit the bill by triggering a rapid pleasure response when we’re tired and craving comfort.
If this resonates, here are some dietary habits to improve your sleep hygiene:
Don’t worry, you aren’t alone in craving junk food when you’ve had a sleepless night. A lack of shut eye messes with your hunger hormones. Grehlin, the ‘feed me’ hormone goes into overdrive, while leptin, the ‘I’m full’ hormone, takes a back seat. This results in you craving junk food for a quick pleasure fix.
There are a few habits to help though, such as ditching the caffeine and heavy foods before bed to aid a more restful sleep.
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