Does Lack of Sleep Make You Crave Junk Food?

Do find yourself reaching for chips, cookies, and candy far more often when you haven’t gotten enough sleep? If you’ve had the nagging suspicion that it’s harder to resist junk food when you’re sleep deprived, you’re right. Adults need a full seven to eight hours of sleep for the body to run at peak efficiency. When you get less, the brain starts changing the way hormones are released. The result—junk for cravings and unwanted weight gain.

Why Do I Feel Hungrier?

You really do feel hungrier when you’re tired. Lack of sleep causes the brain to change how it releases the appetite-controlling hormones. The hunger hormone ghrelin gets released in higher amounts while the hormone leptin, which makes you feel full, gets released in smaller doses. You end up feeling hungrier even though you don’t need the extra calories.

Why Do I Crave Junk Food When I’m Tired?

Not only does the body feel hungrier when sleep deprived but it also craves high-fat, sugary junk foods. Studies have shown that sleep-deprived people are 50 percent more likely to choose snacks with more fat and a higher calorie count those who’ve gotten the recommended amount of sleep.

The explanation lies in the reward center of the brain. Those unhealthy foods stimulate the reward center much in the same way marijuana does. You get a similar result too—a serious case of the munchies. Sleep deprivation makes the rewards feel even better than usual. It’s no wonder it’s harder to resist those unhealthy foods when you’re running on little sleep.

How Can I Get Better Sleep to Help Control My Food Cravings?

Adequate rest is crucial to appetite control and making healthy food choices. On your quest to get better sleep, start by examining your bedroom. You should have a well-made mattress that supports your preferred sleep position. If you’re waking during the night because of an achy back or sore shoulder, you might need a different mattress. The bedroom should be kept cool (between 60-68 degrees), quiet, and dark at night to give your body the best chance for a restful night. You can also develop behaviors that support better sleep.

  • Regular Exercise: Exercise improves overall health, but it also wears the body out, so you feel more tired at night. However, try to avoid doing strenuous exercise within four hours of bedtime as the increase in body temperature and release of endorphins can keep you awake.

  • Smart Eating: It’s important to eat healthily, but you also need to eat smart. A heavy, high-fat meal close to bedtime will have you tossing and turning. Try to

eat a light, early dinner, so you’re comfortable at night. If hunger pains keep you awake, try a healthy snack that promotes sleep. Foods like milk, yogurt, bananas, and almonds have nutrients that support the production of melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone.

  • Consistent Bedtime and Wake Up Time: Your body needs to know when to start releasing the hormones that make you feel tired. Keeping a consistent schedule helps to establish a regular sleep-wake cycle. Your body will start releasing hormones at the same time each day as you keep to your schedule.

  • Avoid Stimulants and Screens: Stimulants like caffeine should be avoided at least four hours before bedtime. It temporarily blocks some of the hormones that make you feel sleepy. You’ll also want to turn off screens an hour before bed. The bright, blue light from televisions, smartphones, laptops, and e-readers can make your brain believe it’s daytime, which can throw off your sleep-wake cycle.

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