Sleep, or more accurately a lack of thereof, alters the amount of hunger and satiety hormones in your body. When you don’t get a full seven to nine hours of sleep, your body releases more of the hunger hormone ghrelin and less of the satiety hormone leptin. The combination leaves you more likely to overeat because it’s harder to recognize when you’re full.
But sleep deprivation affects more than how hungry you feel. Several studies have shown that lack of sleep increases cravings for unhealthy foods full of fat and sugar. Partially to blame are the changes in the reward center of the brain that take place when you’re tired. The same part of the brain that’s stimulated by marijuana use is also affected by lack of sleep, and they share a similar side effect – a case of the munchies. When your brain’s getting a bigger “hit” from those unhealthy foods, it is far harder to resist them.
If you want to give yourself an extra advantage when it comes to healthy food choices, make sleep a priority.
The good news is that there are a lot of things you can do to improve the quality of your sleep. Start by taking a good look at your bedroom to make sure there isn’t anything getting in the way of a good night’s rest. For example, an old lumpy mattress could cause discomfort and wakefulness during the night that leaves you tired the next day. Even if your mattress is supportive, you might need help keeping your spine aligned for a full seven hours. You might sleep better with a mattress topper or an extra pillow for added comfort. These seemingly small efforts can have big rewards.
You also need to consider the daily habits that contribute to the quality of your sleep like:
- A Consistent Sleep-Wake Schedule: When you keep a consistent sleep-wake schedule, your brain can predict when to start the release of sleep hormones.
- A Bedtime Routine: No, bedtime routines are just for kids. They serve an important purpose like helping you relieve stress and tension before bed and signaling the brain to release sleep hormones. Bedtime routines work best when they’re performed in the same order and at the same time every day.
- Regular Exercise: Exercise can help lower your heart rate and blood pressure while tiring your muscles so that you’re more tired at night. However, try to avoid strenuous workouts within four hours of bedtime. The release of endorphins and adrenaline along with the rise in body temperature can make it hard to fall and stay asleep.
- Meal Spacing and Timing: Eating meals at regular intervals and at around the same times each day helps your body establish regular 24-hour cycles, including a regular sleep cycle. You can also help yourself by eating an early, light dinner as heavy, high-fat foods can cause indigestion.
Sleep is an integral part of a healthy diet. When you give your body the nutrition and rest that it needs, a healthy lifestyle begins to feel like second nature and you’re well on your way to better you.