In a new journal article Alyssa Lundahl and Timothy Nelson look at how poor sleep quality and quantity affect the human drive to eat.
The take home message is if you don’t sleep well – try to get help as is has a big impact on your food choices in many ways.
Biologically, researchers have found that disrupted sleep can lead to a 20% increase in the amount of calories people eat and that portion sizes are bigger. It appears that 2 hormones control most of this higher drive for food. Lower levels of Leptin (tells our brain we how satisfied we are with what we’ve eating) are found in stressed adults with disrupted sleep and higher levels of Grehlin (tells our brain we are hungry) occur. This makes people look for more foods that are sweet, salty or starchy. Researchers have found other hormones also are changed with poor sleep including cortisol, insulin, glucocorticoids and these also make us change our food choices.
If we don’t sleep well, our ability to think is reduced in several ways and can lead to adults and children eating more foods and for children looking for higher calorie snacks. Poor sleep affects a part of the brain that helps us with goal directed behaviours and being able to moderate our impulses and emotions. So it is harder to talk yourself into doing healthy goals like going for a walk, eating more vegetables and harder to say no to tempting higher calorie foods. Another part of our brain is disturbed with poor sleep, making the brain want more rewards to pleasurable stimuli – so we want that pleasurable sensation from tasting of sweet or fatty foods more than usual.
Poor sleep affects our emotions. You are more likely to notice negative events and negative emotions and be emotionally distressed when you have slept poorly. I don’t think it would be a surprise to many people that when feeling negative emotions, adults and children tend to eat more foods. The changes in eating patterns are eating less fruit, vegetables and breakfast cereals and eating more sugary or high fat foods.
The way humans behave is changed when sleep quality or quantity is poor. Adults and children are more likely to behave impulsively and plan less when they are tired. So when you are tired it is harder to resist tempting foods if you have an impulsive personality and you will tend to eat more food then you may have wanted or planned to.
So if you are trying to make healthy eating or lifestyle changes, try to get enough undisturbed sleep so that you won’t have extra hormonal, thinking, behavioural and emotional challenges.
Regards and best wishes from sunny Brisbane, Cathie Lowe Accredited Practising Dietitian
Alyssa Lundahl and Timothy D Nelson
Journal of Health Psychology June 2015 Vol 20 6 794-805