When you’re tempted to watch one more episode of that binge-worthy show, consider the advice of MOBE Guide Tara. “Sleep is one of the most underrated tools for reaching a healthy weight,” says Tara. “Research has shown that sleep deprivation increases hunger hormones, food cravings, and the number of calories consumed in general. If weight loss is your goal, rather than focusing on counting every calorie, prioritize creating healthy sleep habits.”
Scientists don’t have all the answers, but they are starting to unpack the association between sleep, appetite, and weight.
Not getting enough sleep alters your levels of key hormones that regulate hunger. This, in turn, increases your appetite. Even worse—you tend to crave more calorie-dense, high-carbohydrate foods the less sleep you get.1
In multiple studies, people who are sleep deprived show:
The science is not just about hormone levels. It’s about actual weight management: In a study of more than 1000 participants, people who slept less than eight hours a night had increased BMI in proportion to their decreased sleep. That’s out-of-whack hunger hormones at work.2
Researchers looked at what happens in the brain when people look at pictures of a variety of healthy and not-so-healthy foods. They divided subjects into two groups: One was sleep-deprived, and the other was well rested.3
Brain scans found fascinating differences between the two groups. For the sleep-deprived group, the reward center of the brain responded more strongly to images of high-calorie foods than for the well-rested group.
But that’s not all: The MRI scans also found that sleep-deprived participants had less activity in the area of the brain that helps people control their behavior.
So, burning the candle at both ends is a double whammy for your appetite. You’re more likely to crave unhealthy foods, and you’re less likely to be able to control the impulse to act on those cravings.
Improving your sleep habits—also called sleep hygiene—may not only help you feel better, it can also help you manage your appetite. Try these strategies, recommended by our MOBE Guide team:
Commit to a sleep schedule.
Go to bed and get up at the same time every day—even on weekends. Being consistent reinforces your body’s sleep-wake cycle.
Be careful about what you consume.
Avoid heavy meals too close to bedtime. Nicotine and caffeine have stimulating effects that take hours to wear off. Alcohol might make you feel sleepy at first, but it tends to disrupt sleep later.
Create your environment.
Keep your sleeping space cool, dark, and quiet. Build a routine that signals to your body that it’s time to rest with activities like taking a bath or gentle stretching. Avoid screens in the hour before bedtime.
Watch those daytime naps.
If you really need a nap, try to keep it to 30 minutes and skip it if it’s too late in the day.
Move your body.
Regular physical activity is known to promote sleep, as does spending time outside every day.
Jot down what’s on your mind before bed, and then set it aside for tomorrow.
Getting good sleep isn’t just about feeling rested. It’s an important part of your overall health—including how well you eat.
Work on your nutrition goals with one-to-one support from a MOBE Guide. Get started today.
1. Stephanie M. Greer, Andrea N. Goldstein, and Matthew P. Walker, “The Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Food Desire in the Human Brain,” Nature Communications 4 (August 2013): 2259, https://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms3259.
2. Patricia Prinz, “Sleep, Appetite, and Obesity--What is the Link?” PLoS Medicine 1, no 3 (December 2004): e61, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0010061.
3. “Sleep Loss Boosts Appetite, May Encourage Weight Gain,” University of Chicago Medical Center, Science Daily, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/12/041206210355.htm.