Almost one-third of Americans get less than six hours of sleep a night (1). So why are we talking about sleep In a blog about healthy, non-shameful eating? Well, it’s because sleep-deprived people are hungrier. They eat more food, and they eat more frequently. In fact, they eat an average of 300-550 calories per day more than people who get adequate (meaning approximately eight hours) amounts of sleep each night (2). Do the math: that means someone could be gaining as much as 30 to 57 pounds a year if they kept this up every day!
So why does this happen? Why are sleep and eating habits so interconnected? One major reason is that when you're sleep-deprived, food is more irresistible — and this applies particularly to sweet and salty food (3,4). The result is that chronically sleep-deprived people are at much greater risk for obesity and its complications, such as diabetes and heart disease (5). This is true for children and adolescents, too, not just adults (6).
It’s not just appetite and weight that is affected, either. There are 3 other very predictable consequences if you regularly get too little sleep:
- Your mood is affected — and never in a good way. You become more irritable and more likely to be depressed.
- You don’t think as well or concentrate as well. And because your judgment is impaired, you’re not even aware that you're not as sharp.
- Your immune system becomes weaker, leaving you more susceptible to illness.
So if you think you’re saving time by sleeping less, then think again. And please don't kid yourself that you can "catch up" on sleep on weekends or whenever— that strategy simply doesn't work. We realize that some of this may be out of your control, especially if your circadian rhythm is all messed up by working nontraditional hours or by staying up late at night studying for exams. Just know that you're paying a price: normally, there is synchrony in how the brain responds to light, sleep state, and eating rhythms. Disrupting this normal rhythm with too little sleep or irregular sleep has numerous adverse effects on your brain and on your entire metabolism (7,8).
There’s good news, though: a study showed that overweight people who increased their sleeping time from under six hours a night to more than seven hours a night for just two weeks noticed feeling not only more awake and energetic, but also less hungry — mostly due to a markedly decreased craving for sweets and salty food (9). Pretty amazing, right?
Jay — During high school, I was incredibly busy with school, extracurricular, activities, and just being a teenager. There were days when I got up at 5:30 am and came home at 10 pm, only to stay up until midnight studying. Along with using food as a coping mechanism for emotional stress, I’m sure sleeping five hours a night added to the 20 pounds a year I was gaining in high school.
Once I got to college, I found a routine that worked for me — one that included a lot of sleep. I still make sure I get a minimum of seven hours a sleep… and those are on the “bad nights.” I live my best life when I’m getting eight hours of sleep. This is so important to me because I can feel how it affects my mood, my hunger, and my approach to food. I'm more patient, and I can think more clearly — not to mention that I have so much more energy. have.
So our take-home message is this: do your best to live and work in such a way that you can sleep for eight hours every night, and preferably go to bed around the same time every night so your body can get used to the routine. Stop being a victim of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)! There will always be more parties, more dinners, more movies, more everything. This isn't to say that you have to be like Janice, who "benefits" from FOGO (Fear Of Going Out) and goes to bed pretty much when it gets dark out. Try Jay's strategy: have a life, but make a sincere commitment to get the sleep you need, not the sleep you think you have time for. Sleep is not a luxury!
(1) Schoenborn CA, Adams, PE. Health behaviors of adults: United States, 2005-2007. Vital and Health Stat Series 10, Data from the Natl Health Survey 2010:1-132).
(2) Spaeth AM et al. Effects of experimental sleep restriction on weight gain, caloric intake and meal timing in healthy adults. Sleep 203; 36:981-90.
(3) St.-Onge MP et al. Sleep restriction increases the neuronal response to unhealthy food in normal-weight individuals. Int J Obes 2014; 38:411-16.
(4) Hanlon EC et al. Sleep restriction enhances the daily rhythm of circulating levels of endocannabinoid 2-arachidonoylgycerol. Sleep 2016; 39(3):653-64.
(5)Dashti HS et al. Short sleep duration and dietary intake, epidemiologic evidence, mechanisms and health implications. Adv Nutr 2015; 6(6):648-59.
(6) Fatima Y et al. Sleep quality and obesity in young subjects: a meta-analysis. Obes Rev 2016; 17:1154-65.
(7) McHill AW, Wright Jr KP. Role of sleep and circadian disruption on energy expenditure and in metabolic predisposition to human obesity and metabolic disease. Obes Rev 2017; 18 (suppl 1):15-24.
(8) Shimizu I et al. A role for circadian clock in metabolic disease. Hypertens Res 2016; 39(7):483-91.
(9) Tasali E et al. The effects of extended bedtimes on sleep duration and food desire in overweight young adults: a home-based intervention Appetite 2014; 80:220-4.