Make Better Food Choices with Better Sleep

From Amy: We can't address our nutrition without addressing sleep. But here's the thing -- Americans are sleeping approximately 1.5-2 hours less than they were 50 years ago. Many are walking around chronically sleep deprived. When we sleep, our body rests, restores, and heals. We can be doing all we can with diet and exercise but if we're not clocking in enough sleep time, we may be actually sabotaging our goals. To discuss this topic in more detail, I have a guest post written by Mary Lee with Tuck Sleep. Hope you enjoy!

Make Better Food Choices with Better Sleep


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Making healthy food choices is a habit that takes time to develop. A full night’s rest, that’s at least seven hours for everyone and even up to nine for some, can give you the advantage over cravings and appetite control. As science has helped us understand, sleep plays a regulatory role in appetite and food cravings, which can work in your favor when sleep is a priority.



Your Appetite Without Enough Sleep

As your stomach starts to empty, the body releases the hunger hormone ghrelin. The more ghrelin in your system the hungrier you get. Once you start to eat, a satiety hormone called leptin tells your brain when to stop eating.

Without enough sleep, ghrelin gets released in higher amounts than normal, while leptin levels go down. What are you left with? A powerful hunger and less ability to respond to your “full” signal.

Hunger levels aren’t the only way that lack of sleep impacts your diet.


Sleep Deprivation and Food Cravings

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Food cravings can be hard to resist on the best of days, but when coupled with sleep loss, they can take an irresistibly sugary turn. A 2016 study published in SLEEP found that study participants who got less than eight hours of sleep consistently chose foods with 50 percent more sugar and twice the fat. They also reported that their food cravings were stronger and harder to resist.

Sleep loss affects the endocannabinoid system, which affects the brain much in the same way marijuana does, hence the system’s name. This system stimulates the reward center of the brain to create a “runner’s high” from high-fat, sugary foods. The case of the munchies that comes with sleep deprivation is comparable to that experienced when taking marijuana because of the way they both affect the brain.

However, you can put a damper on cravings and bring your hunger under control by getting more sleep.


How to Sleep Better for Healthier Food Choices

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Your environment and everyday habits affect your ability to fall and stay asleep. If sleep deprivation is your norm, which means less than six hours of sleep, it might take time and consistent effort to make lasting changes. But be patient, stick to it, and before you know it, you’ll be sleeping through the night and maintaining a healthy diet. Here’s how to start:

  • Comfortable Sleep Environment: Your bedroom should be a sleep sanctuary where your mind and body can relax and drift off to sleep. If you wake with aches and pains, it might be time to replace your mattress with one that’s more supportive of your weight and sleep position. For example, side sleepers need a softer mattress than back or stomach sleepers. If you’re not sure of your sleep position, medium-firm mattresses offer good support for the average sized person no matter the sleep position.

  • Make Time for Sleep: Go to bed early enough for a full seven hours of sleep. Be sure to add extra time for the minutes it takes you to fall asleep. As tempting as it might be to finish a novel or watch another episode on Netflix, shut things down on time so you’ll be refreshed in the morning.

  • Develop a Bedtime Routine: If shutting down at night is difficult for you, a bedtime routine can help trigger sleep hormones. Try to include activities that bring your heart rate down like taking a warm bath or listening to quiet music.

Healthy sleep supports your efforts to maintain a healthy diet. Sleep creates a strong foundation for better health upon which you can build the rest of your life.


Mary Lee is a researcher for the sleep science hub She specializes in sleep's role in mental and physical health and wellness. Mary lives in Olympia, Washington and shares her full-sized bed with a very noisy cat.  


Amy GonzalezComment