While most of us know that getting enough sleep is important, we do not prioritize sleep into our busy lives. Since it plays an essential role in your health, there are many reasons why you should make sleep a priority. The National Sleep Foundation refers to sleep as the “third piece of the puzzle,” since, along with diet and exercise, it is critical for healthy functioning. Read on to learn the connection between sleep and health.
The Connection Between Sleep and Health
Staying awake at your desk isn’t the only benefit of a restful night’s sleep. Getting enough sleep will benefit your health in countless ways. In this article, we focus on how sleep affects your appetite, the way your body uses glucose (sugar), your food choices, and even your weight. Fortunately, there are strategies you can use to prioritize sleep and achieve your optimal health.
Sleep and Appetite
Do you find yourself hungrier after a restless night? Do you make unhealthy food choices when you haven’t slept well? There are reasons why most of us don’t crave healthy foods like broccoli when we are sleep deprived.
Studies have consistently shown that sleep deprivation increases hunger, appetite, and food intake. While we tend to eat more when we are awake for more extended hours, there’s more to the story. Science can help us understand how sleep and appetite are related.
Two of the main hormones involved in appetite and satiety are ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin is often called the ‘hunger hormone’ because it tells your brain that you are hungry and need to eat. Ghrelin stimulates appetite and promotes fat storage. Leptin is often referred to as the ‘satiety hormone.’ Leptin’s primary job is to tell your brain you are full and to burn calories at a reasonable rate.
During sleep, ghrelin levels decrease, and leptin levels increase. This signals your brain that you have enough energy (food) for the time being and do not need to eat. When you are sleep deprived, however, the opposite happens- your ghrelin levels increase, and your leptin levels decrease. This hormonal imbalance explains why you feel hungry throughout the day when you haven’t gotten enough sleep.
According to Martha McKittrick, Registered Dietitian and blogger in New York City, “Sleep deprived people eat more calories. Studies have shown that women eat 329 more calories and men eat 263 more calories after sleeping only 4 hours. To make matters worse, inadequate sleep will decrease motivation to exercise.”
Sleep and Blood Sugar Metabolism
Lack of sleep also leads to insulin resistance and decreased glucose tolerance (the ability to break down glucose for energy), potentially increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes. According to the National Sleep Foundation, studies found that when healthy adults were asked to sleep only four hours a night for six nights in a row, their ability to break down glucose was impaired, reaching levels typical of those at risk of diabetes. Then, after consuming a high-carbohydrate breakfast, their blood sugar levels stayed elevated for longer than when they had a good night’s sleep. Another study showed that after three nights of weekend ‘catch up sleep,’ insulin resistance and hormone levels improved in young men who were sleep-deprived.
Sleep and Weight
Now that we see how sleep affects appetite and blood sugar levels, it makes sense that lack of sleep can contribute to overweight and obesity. In general, the less people sleep, the more they weigh, and the more likely they are to gain weight over time. Sleep restriction can lead to overeating, especially foods high in calories. Studies looking at images of the brain have shown that our brains respond differently to unhealthy foods when we are sleep deprived, making it harder for us to resist eating them. One study showed that after a night of no sleep, healthy, young men were more likely to choose snack foods than if they were well-rested. The results of this study help to further explain why a lack of sleep and poor food choices go hand in hand.
Tips for Getting More Sleep
The good news is there are several things that you can do to help you sleep better at night and reduce your risk of weight gain and diabetes. Start making sleep a priority by following these tips.
Increasing your exposure to sunlight or other bright light during the day can help keep your circadian rhythm (your body’s natural time-keeping clock) running smoothly. This simple step can boost your energy during the day and help you have a better night’s sleep.
Limit screen time before bed.
Staring at your computer, phone, iPad, or TV late at night can reset your internal clock and disrupt sleep. Turn off these devices at least one hour before bedtime. Try reading from a paper book or take this time to try mediation or other relaxing activities before bed.
Avoid caffeine in the afternoon.
It is a good practice to stay away from caffeine after your morning coffee or tea. Caffeine is a stimulant and remains in your bloodstream for six to twelve hours. Keep this in mind and limit food and drinks with caffeine in the afternoon. Coffee, certain teas, chocolate, and some soft drinks all contain caffeine.
Sleep in a cool, quiet, dark room.
According to a survey conducted by the National Sleep Association, a cool, quiet, dark room along with a comfortable mattress, pillow, and sheets were most important for a good night’s sleep. Consider wearing an eye mask to help to block light and help you get a better night’s sleep.
Consider taking a high-quality melatonin supplement.
Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally produced by the body at night. Studies show that taking melatonin 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime can help decrease the time it takes to fall asleep, as well as improve sleep quality and duration.
Not getting enough sleep can affect your hormones and blood sugar levels, resulting in increased hunger and appetite, and even increase your risk of type 2 diabetes. If left unchecked, sleep deprivation can ultimately wreak havoc on your health. Luckily for you, you can work towards improving your sleep quality by following a healthy diet, exercising daily and following the tips we have outlined above.
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