You know the drill, you toss and turn all night, with one eye on the clock counting the hours – then minutes until it’s time to get up. An alarming number of American adults (about one-third) rarely, if ever, get the recommended 7 – 8 hours of sleep a night – as many as forty percent of us get six or fewer hours. Beside the obvious risks of drowsy driving, lack of concentration on the job, and irritability, did you know that poor sleep habits can also trigger overeating, bad food choices and weight gain?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, we are in the middle of a sleep epidemic where Americans consistently don’t get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep per night.
A recent study conducted at the University of Chicago found that not only does a lack of sufficient sleep trigger overeating, it makes us crave sweet, salty and high-fat foods. It turns out that when study participants were sleep deprived, they saw an increase in cravings for foods such as cookies, candy, chips (as well as other greasy junk foods) and experienced an enhanced joy of eating, similar to cravings brought on by marijuana use.
The study found that sleep restriction boosts a chemical signal in the blood that increases the pleasure and satisfaction gained from eating. During normal sleep patterns this signal is at low levels overnight, and slowly rises during the day before peaking in the early afternoon. But when a person has not had adequate sleep this signal not only rises to a higher level, but it remains elevated throughout the evening, causing the person to have a strong desire to eat even after they have met their recommended caloric intake for the day. When given access to snacks, the study group with insufficient sleep ate nearly twice as much as they did when they slept for eight hours.
According to Erin Hanion, a University of Chicago research associate in endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism involved in the study, the extra energy required when we are awake a few extra hours is minimal. One study reported about 17 calories per extra hour awake.
“Given the opportunity, our study subjects made up for it (more waking hours) by bingeing on snacks, taking in more than 300 extra calories, which over time can add up to significant weight gain,“ noted Hanion.
[Get Serious About Sleep] Both insufficient sleep and weight gain can lead to serious chronic conditions that can put your health at risk. Addressing your sleep problems can be a great start toward solving your issues with overeating and poor food choices. It turns out good sleep habits are also good for your overall health. Check out the tips below for giving yourself a better chance to enjoy a good night’s sleep.
• Avoid naps, especially in the afternoon. Power napping may help you get through the day , but if you find that you can’t fall asleep at bedtime, eliminating even short catnaps may help.
• Stick to the same schedule for bedtime and wake up time, even on the weekends. This helps to regulate your body’s clock and could help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.
• Exercise daily. Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no activity. Avoid exercise in the hour or so before going to bed.
• Create a bedroom environment conducive to sleep. Your bedroom should be cool – between 60 and 67 degrees. It should also be quiet and dark. Blackout curtains, eye shades, white noise machines or a fan, may help reduce noise and light distractions.
• Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows. Make sure your mattress is comfortable and supportive.
• Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and heavy meals within two to three hours before bedtime. While eating shortly before going to bed doesn’t directly cause weight gain, calories eaten during an active day will burn more quickly than calories taken in immediately before bedtime.
• Avoid late night snacking. If late night snacks are a temptation, avoid purchasing items that will test your willpower.
• Wind down. Your body needs time to shift into sleep mode. Spend the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading. Avoid using electronic devices before bed or in the middle of the night.
• If you can’t sleep, go into another room and do something relaxing until you feel tired. And, keep work materials, computers and televisions out of the bedroom.
Sources: UChicago News, University of Chicago; National Sleep Foundation