3 Ways Sleep Deprivation Can Ruin Your Diet (and 4 Ways to Prevent It)

February 12, 2018

We all need sleep. It’s a basic biological function that the human body cannot do without. If you’re not getting a full seven to eight hours of sleep each night, you’re not alone. Far too many adults struggle to fall asleep or sacrifice it altogether because of a busy lifestyle. Unfortunately, if you don’t make sleep a priority, lack of it can wreak havoc on your body and derail a well-balanced diet.

Why You Need Sleep

The body performs important functions while you’re unconscious. The immune goes into full restoration mode while you sleep. If it can’t get its work done, it starts to affect your sleep cycle, which can leave you feeling tired and achy.

The brain gets to work while you sleep as well. Fluid in the brain needs to be “cleaned” out every day just like the rest of the body. While you’re unconscious, the brain flushes out protein and other waste to keep your synapses firing at full speed. The brain also strengthens or eliminates connections that affect memory and learning. As your brain starts to slow down, your reaction times, decision-making abilities, and reasoning skills follow.

The body simply wasn’t meant to function without enough sleep. All aspects of your life are affected when you’re tired, including your appetite and metabolism.

3 Ways Sleep Deprivation Can Ruin Your Diet

Your brain also controls the release of important hormones that regulate every system in your body. When it doesn’t get enough sleep, it changes how those hormones are released and that’s when your diet starts to suffer.

1. You Feel Hungrier

Your appetite, metabolism, and weight are controlled through a complex system of hormones and signals sent to and from the brain at the right time. When you don’t get enough sleep, hunger hormones like ghrelin get released in higher amounts. The result — you feel hungrier.

The increase in hunger often comes in the early afternoon and lasts until after dinner. That’s a long time to be fighting extra hunger pains.

2. You Don’t Feel Full

Hunger hormones aren’t the only ones to change during sleep deprivation. Leptin, the hormone that tells your brain you’re full, gets released in smaller doses when you’re tired. With higher amounts of ghrelin and lower amounts of leptin, the body is usually slower to respond to that feeling of satiety. You keep eating even though your brain knows you’re full.

3. Craving Changes

There’s another factor that comes into play beyond an increase in hunger and a decrease in satiety. Food cravings change during sleep deprivation because of a change in the pleasure and satisfaction you get from eating. Sleep deprivation targets the same system that gets activated by marijuana, leaving a sleep-deprived person with a similar case of the munchies. Foods that send more pleasure signals like chips, cookies and other high-fat snacks become more appetizing. You’re far more likely to reach for junk food because you get more pleasure from them when you’re tired.

How to Sleep Longer and Better

Getting a good night’s rest serves as a foundational support to a healthy eating plan. As you develop good sleep hygiene, you can help yourself sleep longer and better.

1. Build a Sleep-Promoting Environment

A comfortable mattress that supports your preferred sleep style can help you stay asleep longer and wake without aches and pains. Keep your bedroom a cool 60-68 degrees at night and shut out as much light and sound as possible.

Bright screens from televisions, e-readers, laptops, and cell phones can alter your circadian rhythms, those cycles your body relies on to function on a predictable schedule. They can make the brain send the “wake up” signal as soon as you’re getting ready to hit the pillow. If you want to read before bed, get a book not a screen. Shut down screens about an hour before bedtime to promote better sleep.

2. Keep a Consistent Schedule

Your circadian rhythms are heavily influenced by natural light but also by a regular schedule. Try to go to bed at the same time every day. Your body gets used to your habits and will automatically start the release of hormones that trigger your sleep cycle.

To keep everything running smooth, try to wake up at the same time every day as well, even weekends. Sleeping in may be tempting, but it could hinder your ability to get a good night’s rest the next day.

3. Establish a Bedtime Routine

There’s a reason bedtime routines work for kids. They help signal the brain when it’s time to shut down. If you have trouble falling asleep, a bedtime routine might be what you need to release tension and stress from the day. It doesn’t have to be long, but it should include relaxing activities performed in the same order.

If stress keeps you awake, you might consider adding a few minutes of meditation or gentle yoga into your routine. Both can help calm the mind and body so you can get the deep sleep you need. Other activities you might want to consider are a warm bath, reading a book, or listening to quiet, calming music.

4. Eat Right and Smart

Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet always leads to good things. What you eat and when you eat it impact your sleep cycle. Regularly spaced meals throughout the day support your circadian rhythms.

Watch your alcohol intake. Even though it makes you feel sleepy, it can interfere with your sleep cycle during the night. Avoid stimulants like the caffeine found in soda, coffee, and energy drinks for at least four hours before bedtime. If you’re looking for a late night snack to tide you over until morning, consider milk, yogurt, or cheese. Dairy products are high in calcium, which promotes the production of melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone.

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