Sleep & Appetite

Cute little red kitten sleeps on fur white blanket

Have you ever noticed that you are hungrier when you haven’t slept well? Or that you crave junk food when you’re tired? This is because the amount of sleep you get has a direct impact on your appetite.

It’s a known fact that we get less sleep than we once did. In 1942, 11 percent of people in the U.S. slept 6 or less hours a night. By 2013, the number of people sleeping less than 6 hours per night jumped to 40 percent – nearly half the country’s population.

The National Institute of Health states that 70 million adults in this country suffer from some type of sleep difficulty. The Mayo Clinic revealed that a 2015 study showed that sleep “issues” occupy the No. 2 spot of health complaints.  But why?

Physical ailments can contribute to poor sleep, breathing difficulties due to obesity, for example. A large majority of Americans are on medications that can interfere with sleep, such as antidepressants. 

Also, the increase in time spent on our phones, computers and watching TVs interrupts the body’s natural rhythms. All these devices emit artificial light. This artificial light tricks our bodies into thinking it’s still daylight, and therefore, keeps us awake.

So how does this lack of sleep affect our appetite? For one thing, when you are tired, you need an energy boost to get going in the morning, or to get through an activity, such as a work meeting or even your daily workout. This need for a burst of energy triggers a craving for high-calorie or high-fat junk foods, such as doughnuts, candy bars or even a sugary soda or coffee drink.

Sleep deprivation has also been shown to cause us to have less impulse control when it comes to food. In a 2013 study done at the University of California – Berkeley, scientists used MRI scans to observe the brain activity of sleep-deprived and well-rested people. Among the sleep-deprived group, the scans showed that the reward center of the brain responded more strongly to images of high-calorie food, and also showed a decrease in activity in the part of the brain that regulates behavior control.

This suggests that a lack of sleep affects our appetite and eating in two ways – more inclined to make poor food choices and less able to control the impulse to eat those low-quality foods.

Another study done at Columbia University showed the same strong response to pictures of junk food as the study done at Berkeley, but took it a step further. The MRI scans of sleep-deprived people showed that the reward center of the brain did not react to images of healthy foods, like fruits and vegetables as strongly as it did to the images of junk foods. Also, the scans of well-rested people did not display the increased reward-center activity to those same junk food images.

A 3-week study done by researchers from the University of Chicago and the University of Wisconsin yielded dramatic results. 10 overweight people followed their normal sleep schedule of six-and-a-half hours per night for the first week. Then for the second and third week of the study, they were instructed to sleep eight-and-a-half hours each night. At the end of the three weeks, the study participants reported a 14 percent decrease in overall appetite and a 62 percent decrease in the desire for sweet and salty foods!

The results of these studies seem to show there is a clear connection between sleeping and eating, which means that getting enough sleep is a big part of appetite control, and in turn, weight management. We need sleep in order for the body to repair and rejuvenate itself, we now know sleep also plays a key role in controlling the appetite as well. 

Be Well Tips

• Get 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
• Keep the bedroom dark and cool.
• Avoid looking at phones, laptops or TVs   
  while in bed.
• Focus on healthful food choices.