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We’ve all been victim to the late night munchies every now and then, but consistent sleep deprivation can leave your body craving sugary, high-fat foods when you don’t need the extra calories. Science has been unraveling the secrets behind the effects of sleep loss for decades. The results show that getting seven to eight hours of sleep each night is far more important than ever before.

Recognizing When You’re Full

The body releases hormones like leptin and ghrelin at the appropriate times to let your brain know when you’ve had enough. However, when you’re sleep deprived the levels at which those hormones are released changes. The changes cause the body to not feel as full even though it has already taken in the right amount of calories.

Eating more when you’re tired makes sense if you think in terms of survival, which is the body’s top motivator. When you’re sleep deprived, you rest less and burn more calories. In the days of hunting and gathering, that could have meant significantly more calories burned in an effort to find food when it was scarce. But in a modern society where food is readily available, we end up eating more food than we actually need.

Sleep Deprivation Increases Rewards

Not only do we eat more, the kind of food we crave changes too. Here’s where those sugary, high-fat snacks come into play. Sleep deprived or not, food, especially sugar, can trigger the reward center of the brain. Sleep deprivation magnifies the rewards, increasing the amount of pleasure the brain experiences from junk foods like cookies, candy, and chips.

These tough to resist cravings come late in the afternoon and evening, with many people resisting until after dinner when they’re exhausted. Which means the extra calories are coming when you’re not likely to burn the calories, but instead, lay down and store the fat for another day. It all leads to an unhealthy diet and weight gain.

Focus on Developing Good Sleep Hygiene

Before anyone loses hope, you can fight cravings with more than your willpower. Developing good sleep hygiene can help you work with your body rather than battle your body’s natural response to sleep deprivation. As you get the rest you need, your body will respond by releasing hormones at the right times in the right levels. Here are a few ways to help you improve your sleep hygiene:

  • Turn off the screens. Bright screens whether on a television, laptop, or smartphone cause an awake response in the brain that can upset the natural circadian rhythms. Turn off those screens an hour before bedtime to let your body respond to its natural instincts.
  • Consistent bedtime. A consistent bedtime helps set those circadian rhythms, but you’ll need to keep your bedtime the same on both weekdays and weekends for the best results.
  • Comfortable sleeping conditions. A dark, cool room helps the body maintain the lower body temperature it needs for restful sleep. Also consider the comfort of your mattress. Memory foam mattresses can make some people too hot while an old, lumpy mattress may cause aches and pains that wake you during the night. Make sure you’ve set yourself up with the ideal sleeping conditions.
  • Eat smart. The right diet can have a big impact. Avoiding alcohol, caffeine and a heavy, high-fat meal can all help you fall and stay asleep.

Thank you to the Shut Eye Blog by Best Mattress Reviews for this guest blog post with some fantastic information!

Wishing you a restful and healthy week,

-Ricci-Lee Hotz, MS, RDN

Denver’s Dancing Dietitian

A Taste of Health, LLC

“Improving Quality of life one bite at a time”