Have you ever been so tired that you literally cannot function? You fall asleep at your desk, have a foggy brain, or all you can think about is sleeping. Another thing that happens to me is I have serious cravings for high sugar and high fat foods – think candy, French fries, and cookies. My flight out of Philadelphia was delayed on Sunday, so I didn’t get home until 1:00 a.m. on Monday morning; giving me only 4 hours until I had to wake up and get ready for work. Needless to say, I was exhausted on Monday… and I was craving all the foods! There is nothing wrong with having these high fat, high sugar foods occasionally, but why do I crave them more when I’m sleep deprived?
Research has shown that there is a clear relationship between sleep deprivation and overeating. This study in the Journal of Obesity found that individuals who slept only four hours over five consecutive nights had higher activity in the pleasure center of their brains when shown high fat and high sugar foods; compared to a group of individuals who slept nine hours each night. This illustrates that just by being chronically exhausted, our brain is more open to and more excited about fueling with the “sometimes” foods over the “always” foods. I liken this to the fact that your brain is seeking quick energy to get you through the day. When you get sufficient sleep, you are thinking more clearly and your brain wants more sustained energy.
Several other studies have outlined the serious hormonal implications that occur due to lack of sleep. We have two main hunger hormones that are effected:
There is another hormone that is effected by lack of sleep: cortisol. Cortisol is the hormone that is released into the blood during times of increased stress; and is therefore called the “stress hormone”. Chronic elevations of cortisol and inflammatory proteins can lead to increased risk of certain diseases and ongoing disease development. Cortisol scares me more than any other hormone! So many people are chronically stressed and they don’t realize this stress is causing more harm than ever! The effects of elevated cortisol become even worse in people who are stressed AND sleep deprived. Research shows that cortisol increases significantly from chronic sleep deprivation. This study even found that just one night of total sleep deprivation increased cortisol levels, especially in the early evening and early morning hours.
It is inevitable that we are all going to be sleep deprived at some point in our life. Newborn baby at home, work deadlines, or delayed flights are things that are just going to happen. So, how do you deal with the effects of sleep deprivation; specifically, how should you tackle your eating for the day?
Allison Tropf, MS, RD, CSSD
Allison is a Sports Dietitian in Michigan. She enjoys helping others reach their nutrition and fitness goals through reliable and trustworthy recommendations.
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