Is your lack of sleep making you overeat?

A lot of questions are being asked about the relationship between sleep and your appetite, with many now recognising how a sleep disorder such as insomnia can ultimately affect your diet and nutrition.

Stress and sleep | Healthy Eating

Sonia Chartier

01 March 2018

Can sleep deprivation make you hungry?

Have you ever struggled through your morning routine and found your stomach grumbling more frequently? Or noticed that you seem to crave sugary, carbohydrate-rich treats such as cakes, donuts or chips?

Well, it turns out these cravings might not be just your stomach begging for some food. A lot of evidence has emerged that supports the idea of there being a direct correlation between your sleep patterns and your eating habits, with the National Sleep Foundation suggesting that those who don’t get enough sleep consume up to 300 extra calories a day and twice as much fat as someone who is managing to get the recommended 8 hours!

But why is this the case and how does sleep deprivation really affect your appetite? In order to examine this complicated relationship I’m going to have to take a look at something that may surprise you – your hormones!

How does a lack of sleep affect your hormones?

Just as sleep allows the rest of your body to recover and recuperate, it also allows your hormones to replenish and function correctly. Several hormones are released into the bloodstream while you sleep, such as prolactin, oxytocin and the human growth hormone (HGH).

These hormones help with everything from tissue repair to your immune function. It’s even been speculated that infant growth spurts are associated with regulated sleep patterns so there’s no doubt that sleep is really essential for hormone production and function.

When it comes to your appetite, though, there are a few hormones that really do matter; ghrelin, insulin, cortisol and leptin.  These four hormones help to rouse your appetite and regulate your metabolism. Ghrelin and leptin in particular play an important role in controlling and appeasing your appetite respectively.

However, if you are not getting enough sleep problems can occur.  Your levels of ghrelin, the hormone that stimulates hunger cravings, will become elevated and your body’s natural appetite suppressor, leptin, will start to decline.

Unfortunately, when this happens you start to crave sugary foods rich in carbohydrates to satisfy your appetite, which is when weight-gain can occur and a plethora of associated health problems, forming a vicious cycle where sleep affects your appetite and your appetite ultimately impacts your sleep.

The vicious cycle of not sleeping and overeating

So we’ve established the link between not sleeping and overeating but unfortunately, that’s only the start of your problems. Not only can a lack of sleep cause you to overeat, overeating in itself can cause you to experience a variety of sleep problems, forming a vicious cycle that can be hard to escape from.

For example, if you are overeating during the day, the chances are you will be snacking on sugary foods and carbohydrates.  These types of foods are usually processed and high in refined sugars, which can upset your nervous system and make it difficult to relax, especially if you’ve been munching away close to your bed time.

Not to mention if you’ve been feeling sleepy throughout the day, you’ve probably had the odd cup of coffee too, which can again stimulate your nervous system. Did you know that one cup of coffee six hours before your bedtime could reduce your total sleep time by one hour?

So if you normally go to bed at 10pm, that afternoon cup of coffee could really come back to haunt you. It doesn’t help that some people even turn to alcohol to help them unwind at night, which ends up doing much more damage than good.

How does this cycle affect other areas of your health?

So sleep deprivation is causing food cravings that are essentially fuelling your sleep deprivation – It’s not a good cycle is it? However, things can be become quite worrying when we consider the negative impact this excess rush of sugar is having on your blood glucose levels.

If you are suffering from sleep deprivation and plodding your way through the day on a high sugar diet, your blood glucose levels are going to spike, causing an inevitable sugar crash when they drop. This sugar crash will only make you feel more tired but this may be the least of your problems.

Evidence is emerging that sleep deprivation could be linked to pre-diabetic symptoms. Apparently the body’s reaction to sleep deprivation resembles insulin resistance, raising your blood sugar levels quite dramatically! Definitely not what you want!

This cycle can also impact your cortisol levels. Traditionally, cortisol is released into the bloodstream early in the morning to help you feel more awake and by night time, your levels should have dropped to enable you to get a good night of sleep.

Of course this is not always the case and the hormone can serve another purpose. It can act as a stress hormone and cortisol is also released by the body as part of your ‘fight or flight’ reflexes. If you are feeling tired, experiencing rapid spikes in your blood sugar levels and gaining weight, you are probably feeling a bit anxious and you will probably get stressed more easily.

This will continue to stimulate the release of cortisol which can cause all sorts of problems, including hormonal imbalances, mood swings, digestive issues and an impaired immune function. Not to mention that stress will definitely keep you awake at night, further exaggerating that horrible cycle.

What can I do to break the cycle?

Breaking the sleeping and overeating cycle can be difficult and there are a few aspects of your diet and lifestyle that you may have to question.

Your diet: This is a big hurdle to overcome, especially if you have to fight against cravings throughout the day. However, if you are sleep deprived, reaching for a bar of chocolate is just a temporary fix and essentially you are just fuelling the cycle. Try to answer your body’s food cravings by instead choosing healthier alternatives. If your body is craving chocolate or sugar, try to satisfy it by making some homemade energy balls like these yummy Chocolate-date balls!

If you do want to binge on carbohydrates, choose complex forms such as brown rice, wholemeal bread or pulses. Stock up on fruit, which is rich in natural sugars, and eat plenty of veg, especially green leafy veg such as kale, which can help your brain to produce melatonin, the sleep hormone! Swap your afternoon cup of coffee for some antioxidant-rich green tea or a caffeine-free alternative such as Bambu.

Relax: Stress can have a huge impact on your sleep patterns so it’s important that you try to reduce your stress levels whenever possible. Take a break from your electronic devices before bedtime and instead set aside some time to read a book or indulge in a nice hot bath.

If you find that your mind is still buzzing, you could try out some meditation and deep breathing techniques. Yoga is also great for reducing your stress levels and can help to promote mindful thinking, enabling you to cope better with feelings of anxiety.

Try Deep Sleep: Deep Sleep is our herbal sleep remedy, prepared from extracts of fresh, organically grown Valerian root and Hops. Instead of working like a traditional ‘sleep pill’, Deep Sleep gently calms your nervous system to promote a natural sleep pattern. It also won’t leave you feeling groggy in the morning like more conventional sleep medicines and it normally gets to work within 30 minutes. Just be careful as Deep Sleep may be unsuitable if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or taking another medicine that is affected by alcohol.

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