Maintaining a healthy, well-balanced diet makes it easier to manage your weight but also gives your body the nutrients it needs. However, there’s more than willpower at work when it comes to eating right. Sleep—the most basic of biological functions—plays a pivotal role in appetite control. For optimum health, you’ll need to cultivate good sleep habits that lead to the deep, restful sleep you need.
How Sleep Deprivation Changes Your Eating Habits
The Brain During Sleep Deprivation
When you get less than the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep, you enter a state of sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation takes a heavy toll on most parts of the body. The immune system can’t fight off infection or heal as quickly. Digestion slows down, and mood swings become more common during sleep deprivation. Stress levels rise, making stress increasingly more challenging to manage.
And then there’s the brain. Without adequate rest, the brain doesn’t have time to prune unused pathways or strengthen the ones that are most needed. Neurons begin to slow down, so reasoning skills, decision-making, and reaction times are impaired. More importantly, the brain changes how it controls the appetite during sleep deprivation.
Sleep Deprivation and Hunger
The brain controls the release of the hunger hormone ghrelin. During sleep deprivation, ghrelin levels rise higher than usual, making you feel hungrier than you would on an average day. Before you know it, you’re grabbing more food than you typically would. At the same time as you feel this increase in hunger, the satiety hormone leptin, which makes you feel full, gets released in smaller amounts.
Sleep Deprivation Changes What You Crave
That’s right. Sleep deprivation not only changes hunger and satiety, but it also changes what you crave and what those foods do to your brain. When you’re going on less than seven hours of sleep, you’re far more likely to crave high-fat, sugary or salty snack foods. Resisting the urge to reach for cookies, cake, or candy becomes harder than ever when you’re tired.
Additionally, the effects those foods have on your brain changes too. Sugar and fat stimulate the reward center of the brain. The brain receives even more rewards than standard, leading to effects similar to those experienced during marijuana use, which explains why you get a case of the munchies when you’re sleep deprived.
Develop Good Sleep Hygiene
Your sleep hygiene includes all the habits that contribute to the quality of your sleep. Everything from the condition of your room to the amount of exercise you’ve gotten makes up your sleep hygiene. A good place to start if you want to improve the quality of your sleep is your bedroom.
The bedroom should be a sleep sanctuary where you escape from the stress of the outside world. At night, it should be cool, quiet, and dark. If you live in an area with light pollution, consider blackout curtains, heavy drapes, or blinds. Your bed needs to support your favorite sleep position. Morning aches and pains might indicate that you either need a mattress topper or a new firmer mattress that will help you rest.
If you’re still not getting the rest you need, try:
Developing a Bedtime Routine: Bedtime routines work with kids and adults alike. The routine should be performed in the same order at the same time each day. Try to include activities that help you relax and destress like taking a warm bath, drinking a warm cup of milk, reading, or meditation.
Exercising Regularly: Exercise does more than get your heart pumping. It wears out your mind and body so that you can fall asleep faster. Just be sure that you don’t do a vigorous workout within four hours of bedtime as the release of endorphins can interfere with your sleep.
Turning Off Your Screen: You might like scrolling through social media in bed, but the bright blue light from your smartphone and other electronic devices suppresses the release of melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone. Turn off your screens about an hour before bed to prevent sleep disturbances.
Going to Bed at the Same Time Every Night: A consistent bedtime helps your body establish a regular sleep-wake cycle. The brain recognizes your daily pattern and starts the release of melatonin at the same time each day.