Make Better Food Choices by Getting a Good Night's Sleep

Welcome to Wellness Wednesday,

Today I am honored to feature a guest blogger, Samantha Kent, on the topic of sleep.  

Samantha (Sam) Kent is a researcher for SleepHelp.org. Her favorite writing topic is how getting enough sleep can improve your life. Currently residing in Boise, Idaho, she sleeps in a California King bed, often with a cat on her face.  

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Make Better Food Choices by Getting a Good Night's Sleep

Overeating and unwanted weight gain open the door to health problems such as obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. While a balanced diet and regular exercise are key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, there’s one factor to good overall health that’s frequently overlooked—sleep.

Getting a full seven to eight hours of sleep is essential to your ability to fight off infection, stabilize moods, and control your appetite. If you get less than seven hours of sleep, you’re in some stage of sleep deprivation. While you may think one hour less than necessary won’t do much harm, you’d be surprised by the changes that take place in your body as you lose sleep.

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Hunger and Sleep Loss

During sleep deprivation, the stomach releases more of the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates your appetite. Most people don’t notice the difference in appetite until the early to mid-afternoon, but once it hits, it can be hard to avoid food even if you don’t need the extra calories. At the same time as you have more ghrelin in your system, your fat cells aren’t releasing as much leptin. Leptin, a satiety hormone, helps you know when to stop eating. More hunger and less satiety open the door to overeating.

The kinds of foods you crave during sleep deprivation change as well. When you’re tired, activity in the amygdala, the area of the brain that regulates basic emotions, goes up. At the same time, activity in the frontal lobe, which helps you make rational decisions, goes down. Usually, the frontal lobe helps you control your emotional responses from the amygdala, but not so when you’re sleep deprived. You become an emotional eater.

What kind of food do you crave when you’re emotional? According to the research, high-fat, sugary foods. The reason—the reward center of the brain gets a bigger hit when you’re tired. When you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re more likely to eat cookies, cake, and chips because it feels good.

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More (and Better) Sleep Leads to Better Food Choices

Getting a full night’s rest can help you make smart food choices. Better sleep starts with the right conditions. Your mattress should be comfortable and support your preferred sleep position. Most people sleep on their side (at least for part of the night), so a medium-firm mattress is often a good choice. Also, the bedroom should be kept dark, quiet, and cool with the temperature somewhere between 60-68 degrees.

In conjunction with the right conditions are habits that support healthy sleep, including:

  • A Regular Bedtime: The body loves consistency. Going to bed at the same time every night helps your body know when to release sleep hormones. It also makes sure you set aside a full eight hours for sleeping.
  • Regular Exercise: Exercising during the day can help you feel more tired at night. However, avoid strenuous exercise at least three to four hours before bed to prevent the rise in body temperature and adrenaline from interrupting your sleep.

  • A Bedtime Routine: No, bedtime routines aren’t just for kids. They help trigger the release of sleep hormones as well as give you a chance to release tension and stress before falling asleep. A good bedtime routine can include any activity that helps you feel relaxed, just be sure to perform the activities at the same time and in the same order every night.

  • Remove Electronics from the Bedroom: Many electronic devices such as televisions and smartphones give off blue light, which stimulates the brain and suppresses the release of sleep-inducing hormones. Even before you enter the bedroom, you should turn off your electronic devices at least two to three hours before bedtime.

In great health, Samantha Kent

Ellie Porter
Managing Editor | SleepHelp.org
ellie@sleephelp.org