How Sleep Deprivation Can Wreck Your Diet

Ever hit the drive-thru on the way home late at night? Or just grazed on junk food after a hard day at work? Maybe you've gulped down a few 200+ calorie lattes after a rough night of sleep.

If these sound like your experiences, you may be familiar with the idea that sleep deprivation can sabotage weight loss or maintaining a healthy weight.

Why Sleep Deprivation is Bad News for Healthy Eating

When you don't get enough sleep, your overall wellness suffers. You feel tired, irritable, less alert, and may be more impulsive. You don't have the energy or mental power to make great decisions, including decisions about food.

Hormones play a part in the risk of weight gain when you're sleep deprived. Hormones related to weight gain are affected by sleep deprivation. These hormones include leptin and ghrelin. Leptin is the satiety hormone, which tells your brain when you're full and should stop eating. Ghrelin is the hunger hormone and tells your brain when you're hungry and should eat.

When you sleep well, leptin and ghrelin production are regulated as they should be. But when you don't get enough sleep, your body produces more ghrelin and less leptin. As a result, your brain gets signals that you're less full and more hungry, which can mean overeating.

In addition to hormones, your emotions and self control are affected by sleep deprivation. You may find it difficult to avoid junk food, as cravings for more calories, high carbohydrate, and fat rich foods are greater when you're short on sleep. You may not have the willpower to stay away from junk foods, and if you're tired, you may not feel like exercising to work off extra calories, either.

Maintaining a Healthy Diet With Good Sleep

Not sleeping well can sabotage weight loss efforts or make it tough to stick to a healthy weight. But if you can improve your sleep habits, you'll have a better foundation for healthy weight.

  • Plan enough time for sleep. Make sure you've giving yourself the time you need to get enough sleep. Block out about eight hours each night for rest. Although you may need more or less than that, you can adjust based on your needs.

  • Sleep in a healthy environment. Your bedroom should be a place where you feel comfortable relaxing and falling asleep. Choose a mattress that fits your needs well, and consider how other factors like sound, light, and even the color of your walls can influence your sleep quality.

  • Stay active during the day. Exercise can help you work off extra calories or create a calorie deficit for weight loss. But it's good for sleep, too. Activity during the day reinforces daytime cues that can keep your internal sleep clock on schedule and make it easier to feel sleepy at night.

  • Be careful what you eat at night. Although calories are calories any time of day, what you eat before bed can influence the quality of your sleep. Caffeine, including caffeine from chocolate, can leave you too alert to sleep well. A heavy meal can sit in your stomach and make you feel uncomfortable as you sleep -- and it can divert energy from resting to digestion instead.

Good sleep supports healthy habits, including a healthy diet. When you're trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, don't neglect sleep.

Sara Westgreen is a researcher for the sleep science hub She sleeps on a king size bed in Texas, where she defends her territory against cats all night. A mother of three, she enjoys beer, board games, and getting as much sleep as she can get her hands on.

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