Here's why a bad night's sleep makes you hungry

Marie Claire Dorking
Not getting enough sleep can play havoc with your hunger hormones [Photo: Unsplash via Pexels]
Not getting enough sleep can play havoc with your hunger hormones [Photo: Unsplash via Pexels]

Bad night’s sleep? Bring on the puffy eyes, grogginess and general grumps. But did you realise not getting enough sleep can play havoc with your hunger levels too?

Sleep has been the topic du jour of late. According to the National Institute of Health, more than a third of adults don’t get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep per night. And it could totally be messing up your life.

But while many of the lack of sleep side effects are well documented – hello memory loss, poor productivity, sluggishness – a poor night’s shuteye also has an impact on how hungry you are.

As part of the research for the ‘The Truth About Sleep’ (BBC 1) presenter Michael Mosley looked into the science behind the relationship between sleep and food consumption. And the results were pretty interesting.

Under the guidance of Dr Eleanor Scott of Leeds University two groups of volunteers were recruited to take part in a sleep deprivation experiment.

They were asked to cut their sleep for two nights in a row and throughout the experiment the research team measured their blood sugar levels and asked the participants to monitor how hungry they felt.

The team found that not only did their blood sugar levels spike after two nights of less sleep, but they also craved sugary foods, like biscuits.

“We know that when you are sleep-deprived this alters your appetite hormones, making you more likely to feel hungry and less likely to feel full. We also know that when people are sleep-deprived they often crave sweet foods,” Dr Scott told BBC.

“Also, if you’re awake when you’re not meant to be, you produce more of the stress hormone, cortisol, and that can influence your glucose level, as well, the next day.”

As Dr Scott explained there is now a lot of evidence from big sleep studies which suggests that people who get less than seven hours a night are more likely to become obese and also develop type 2 diabetes.

One such study was recently undertaken by researchers at King’s College London and found that sleep-deprived people consume, on average, an extra 385 kcal per day.

Sleep makes us crave more sugary foods [Photo: Pixabay via Pexels]
Sleep makes us crave more sugary foods [Photo: Pixabay via Pexels]

The problem isn’t just that blood sugar levels rise and hunger hormones go into overdrive when you’re not getting enough zeds either. Further research also revealed that that areas of your brain associated with reward also become more active when you’re zonked. In other words you become more motivated to seek out food to give yourself a treat.

So what can we do about our lack of sleep playing havoc with our #bodygoals? Next time you know the sleep tank is running low, try to outsmart your brain and hormones and make a conscious decision to choose the healthy option.

And if you’re still having a tricky time getting your recommended slew of shuteye maybe try some pink noise – it could help you sleep better, which in turn will make you eat better. Win Win.

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