Why You Need Sleep to Develop and Support Healthy Eating Habits

Alicia Sanchez is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck.com with a specialty in health and wellness. A Nashville native, Alicia finds the sound of summer storms so soothing that she still sleeps with recorded rain on her white noise machine.

Good eating habits take time to develop, but sleep deprivation can make establishing those habits more difficult. Sleep helps regulate appetite and metabolism. With less than seven hours of sleep per night, the body changes the way it responds to hunger, satiety, and food in general. To achieve your healthy eating goals, adequate sleep will need to be a full partner in your health plan.

More Hunger, Less Satiety

The average adult needs seven to nine hours of sleep. Any less and the body registers hunger and satiety differently. Sleep deprivation causes the brain to release more of the hunger hormone ghrelin and less of the satiety hormone leptin. Even though you don’t need the extra calories, your body feels like it does. Overeating becomes more likely because not only do you feel hungrier but it takes longer for the body to register that it’s full.

Cravings and Rewards

The brain’s system of cravings and rewards also changes with sleep loss. The endocannabinoid system, the same system stimulated by marijuana use, influences hunger, energy levels, and the rewards the brain receives from food. Lack of sleep stimulates it in such a way that the brain experiences a “runner’s high” from foods high in fat and sugar, intensifying cravings.

How to Use Sleep to Your Advantage

Adequate sleep works to your advantage in every way. It boosts the immune system, regulates emotions, and builds and strengthens muscles. More importantly, it regulates your appetite and metabolism so that you’ve got the advantage when making food-related decisions. But, you’ll need to take the time to create a supportive sleep environment and build habits that promote high-quality sleep.

Sleep Environments that Promote Sleep

Your bedroom environment can make your break your ability to fall asleep. We suggest making it:

  • Cool and Dark: At the onset of sleep, your body temperature drops. To support and maintain that temperature, most people sleep better in a room that’s kept between 60 to 68 degrees. Light, both natural and artificial, can suppress sleep hormones, which means the bedroom needs to be as dark as possible once bedtime rolls around.
  • Rest at Ease: If you’re the type that runs through a long list of what if’s at night, we suggest creating a bedtime routine that includes safety measures to put your mind at east. Check doors, windows, and lights in a regular pattern as you walk to the bedroom. You can also help yourself sleep by adhering to a regular semiannual check of the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Comfortable and Inviting: It’s easy for a bedroom to become the catchall space. Clutter can cause anxiety and make it hard to navigate your room. Keep your room clean and decorate with colors and fabrics that make you want to stay awhile.

Well-Balanced, Regularly Spaced Meals

Meal timing plays a role in the initiation of the sleep cycle. If you’re already on the road to a healthier diet, you’ll need to start thinking about when you’re eating not just what. To help your brain recognize when to start the release of sleep hormones, eat around the same time each day and keep your meals regularly spaced.

Get Outdoors

While meal timing plays a role in your sleep cycle, it’s exposure to natural light that determines the overall timing. You can help regulate your sleep cycle by increasing your exposure to natural light. Natural light suppresses sleep hormones but as it diminishes at sundown, sleep hormones slowly build so that you’re tired once it’s completely dark outside.

Conclusion

Sleep affects all aspects of your life, which makes it too important to ignore. Plan for sleep the same way you plan healthy meals, by thinking in advance. As you schedule your life for health success, you’ll have more energy, clarity of mind, and overall health.