I’m sure most of us can remember times at work or school or while involved in an important project at home where we either chose to, or had to stay up late.  Remember after all those hours when you finally took a break to grab some food and went to the fridge and fixed up a nice healthy veggie tray or salad?  Yeah, me neither.

I can recall times studying in school or now, working over for the next shift, where I was running on fumes and craved that donut, candy, or bag of chips.  It’s never something healthy.  But why?  Is there a link between lack of sleep and poor diet choices?

Studies have shown that when we are deprived of adequate sleep, our hormones get out of whack and we crave sugary foods and other snacks that are bad for us.  The derailment of the health train centers around three hormones.

First is leptin.  This hormone signals the brain to stop eating when full.  Leptin levels tend to peak while you’re asleep, so missing your normal bedtime causes you to miss out on that full signal being sent.  So, you continue eating.

The next hormone affected by lack of sleep is ghrelin.  Ghrelin makes you feel hungry.  Just one night of poor sleep can cause your ghrelin levels to shoot up.  So, the less you sleep, the hungrier you feel.

Finally, there’s insulin. When we don’t get enough sleep, our insulin levels spike.  Too much insulin causes our bodies to store fat, causing obesity and eventual development of Type 2 Diabetes.  Even worse, high insulin levels cause us to burn sugar, and this sets off a vicious cycle, where our body craves that lost sugar.  So we want even more of the crap that is causing this train wreck.

Cortisol levels can also become elevated due to lack of sleep.  This stress hormone can make it difficult to manage emotional eating, which in turn makes you hungrier and more stressed out.

Studies have shown that people who get only 5 hours of sleep per night are 50% more likely to be obese than those who get 8 hours.  We need 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night to maintain a general state of health and fitness.

Here are some strategies to help you prevent mid-night snacking and start making sleep a priority.

1.   No caffeine after lunch.  If you really need an after dinner coffee, make it decaf, or opt for chamomile tea instead.

2.   Switch off.  The light from electronics has been shown to disrupt sleep.  TVs, laptops, tablets, and even the glow from an alarm clock can negatively affect the quality of your sleep and your ability to fall asleep.  Make your room as dark as possible.  Read a chapter in a book or actually converse with your significant other before bed instead of staring at a lighted box.


3.   The kitchen is closed.  Eating within three hours of bedtime can cause changes in your blood sugar that can keep you up.  If your hunger is more than you can bear, try a glass of water with lemon.  This remedy can curb your appetite until morning, and the extra hydration doesn’t hurt either.

4.   Exercise early.  It’s best to start your day with exercise, but that isn’t always possible. Don’t skip a workout even if it means working out later.  But, allow yourself adequate time to power back down so you can sleep well.

5.   Re-evaluate your diet.  If you routinely have late night cravings, you might need to increase the protein in your meals.  Also, your meal spacing might need to be adjusted so your last meal carries you through the night.

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6.   Practice mindful eating.  This means being aware of what you are eating and why. Are you appeasing a craving or are you eating because you are actually hungry?  Learn the difference in the feelings.  Mindful eating involves avoiding distractions while eating, like the TV or your phone, and chewing slowly.  Allow time for your food to digest and for you to feel full.  This may mean you don’t finish your entire plate, and that is a good thing.

7.   Drink water.  Thirst is often confused with hunger or cravings.  The next time you feel a sudden hunger or craving come on, drink a glass of water and see how you feel in a few minutes.  If the hunger or craving is gone, you were just thirsty.

It’s one thing to say we need to sleep more.  It’s quite another to implement it.  In our busy lives, there are never enough hours in the day.  But the bottom line is those extra hours of work you are gaining by cutting into your sleep time will cost you in the long run.  You will end up paying for them in pounds gained, health problems developed, and ultimately years shaved off your life.  Crave sleep instead.