Why We Make Bad (Diet) Choices When We're Tired

Anyone else notice the (serious) connection between a bad night sleep and poor dietary choices? Simply put, lack of sleep = deep exhaustion = give me junk food = can't stop eating. I know you know what I'm talking about. 

I feel that many of us are so focused on eating healthy and making good dietary choices, that we forget just how important it is to get enough shuteye. In reality, sleep is a major factor in the health equation and may even dictate what we crave, when we eat, and how much we eat. I decided to bring in the sleep experts from the Tuck Sleep Foundation - a community dedicated to improving sleep hygiene, health, and wellness - to give us a bit more info about the sleep-hunger connection. Here's what they have to say: 

Why We Crave Junk Food When We're Sleep Deprived

Sleep deprivation can increase cravings for junk food and binges. It's how you end up in a drive-thru lane late at night, or crave donuts in the morning after a long night.

When you don't get enough sleep, it's especially tempting to binge on junk food. Your impulse control is weakened, and production of the hormones that control feelings of hunger and satiation are altered.

When you're sleep deprived, it's tough to get through everyday life, much less stick to good nutrition habits. But with better sleep, you can adopt a more healthy lifestyle and support yourself as you eat well.

What Sleep Deprivation Does to Hunger Hormones

Sleep deprivation alters the production of hormones that affect hunger and satiation. This can trick your hunger cues and make you feel as if you need to eat more even when you're full.

When you're well rested, your hunger hormones are well regulated and effectively tell your body when you're full, when you should eat, and when you should stop eating. But when you don't get enough sleep, production of these hormones is not regulated properly, and can send cues that encourage overeating and poor food choices.

Ghrelin is the hunger hormone. It's responsible for telling your brain when you're hungry and should eat.

Leptin is the satiety hormone. This hormone tells your brain when you're full and should stop eating.

When you're sleep deprived, production of ghrelin and leptin is unbalanced, with a decrease in leptin production and an increase in ghrelin production. That means your hormones are sending signals to your brain that you are more hungry and less full, which can make you eat more than you should -- maybe even hungry and tired enough to eat junk food you know it's best to avoid.

Sleep and Self Control

While your hormones are sending confusing signals to your brain, your self control is weakened, making it difficult for you to resist junk food cravings when you're sleep deprived.

Sleep deprivation reduces your self control, influencing junk food cravings and poor nutritional choices. And you're less likely to feel energized enough to exercise, so you may not work off extra calories, either.

People who are sleep deprived often struggle with self control, and are more likely to:

  • Eat bigger portions

  • Give into cravings for foods rich in fats and carbohydrates

  • Snack late at night

  • Consume more calories overall

  • Drink less water

  • Consume more carbohydrates and high carb snacks

How to Sleep and Eat Well

When you sleep well, you're better prepared to make good nutritional choices. Your hunger hormones are appropriately regulated so you get the right cues when you're hungry or full, and your self control is stronger, so you're more able to resist the temptation of junk food cravings.

You can improve the quality and quantity of your sleep to support good eating habits with these tips:

  • Make sleep a priority. You probably have a lot of demands on your time, making it tempting to sleep less and do more. But sleep is the most important thing you can do at night, because it prepares you for a better tomorrow. Plan your schedule so that you have at least eight hours to rest each night, as the average adult needs seven to seven and a half hours of sleep, plus time to fall asleep and wake up.

  • Create a healthy sleep environment. It's not just the quantity, but quality, of sleep that matters. Eight hours of tossing and turning isn't restful enough to support healthy habits. Make sure your bedroom is a comfortable place to sleep, keeping it dark, cool, and quiet. Choose a mattress that fits your needs for comfort and support.

  • Maintain healthy sleep habits. Good sleep habits can improve the quality of your sleep as well. Create a regular bedtime schedule, and follow a consistent bedtime routine that will help you feel sleepy and fall asleep more quickly when it's your usual time to go to bed. Take care to avoid habits that can interfere with healthy sleep, such as consuming caffeine or alcohol late at night, eating a heavy meal before bed, or exercising in the hours just before you go to sleep.

  • Don't stress about missteps. If you struggle to sleep well for a few nights here and there, don't be discouraged. One night isn't enough to make you completely fall off the wagon of healthy sleep. Focus on maintaining healthy sleep habits overall and staying as consistent as possible, even if you slip up now and then.

Newsette Interview

Check out our interview for The Newsette below! 

the newsette

Today we’re introducing the girls behind Tovita Nutrition, a virtual nutrition counseling and concierge service. Leah Silberman and Molly Rieger are both registered dietitians and entrepreneurs who have brought a fresh perspective to the health and wellness industry.

They conduct sessions over videoconference in order to maximize convenience for clients and their mission is to help them reach their nutrition goals by creating a program that includes individualized meal plans, 24/7 support, and client accountability. And the best part? As young girls based in Manhattan, they understand that late night pizza and seamless Sundays happen. No judgement. So we sat down with these two nutrition experts to ask our biggest healthy living questions, and snatched a business tip or two. 

1. We have a section at the top called "Thing to do today." What is one thing you advise your clients to do everyday?
Leah: It’s really important to drink enough water. We recommend filling a 32 oz water bottle up at least twice a day. It’s easy to get caught up at work and simply forget to hydrate. Even mild dehydration can make you feel exhausted, dizzy, and reduce your overall productivity. 

Molly: Turn off all your screens at least 25 minutes before bed. Shutting down your phone, laptop, and TV before bed will help you wind down, take time to yourself without constant distractions, and get to sleep faster. Getting a good night sleep is absolutely crucial to staying on track with clean eating. 

2. A lot of our readers are in their early twenties, what's the healthiest drink they can order at a bar?
Leah: Pick your liquor of choice and add a non-caloric mixer, like seltzer. Throw in some lemons or limes. I’d recommend a mixed drink versus, let’s say, a vodka on the rocks because it takes longer to drink and provides a bit more hydration. 

Molly: If liquor isn’t your thing, go for a 5 oz glass of wine or a light beer. If you’re a red wine drinker, you’ll reap the benefits of resveratrol, an antioxidant naturally found in the skin of red grapes. Also try to have a glass of water between drinks and before going to sleep to avoid a nasty hangover that can sabotage your healthy eating.

3. What's your favorite healthy snack?
Leah: I love making popcorn either over the stove with a little olive oil or air-popping it. I add spices like rosemary, garlic powder, or turmeric. It’s SO good. Popcorn is a good source of fiber and adding spices gives it a little antioxidant boost. 

Molly: My favorites are an apple with a tablespoon of almond butter or cut up bell peppers with hummus. Both great combinations of protein and fiber with the crunch factor that I crave. 

4. What inspired you two to start Tovita Nutrition and what was the most important lesson you learned while launching?

Leah: We were both working in hospital settings prior to launching Tovita. We are fortunate to have had those experiences because they exposed us firsthand to the relationship between health, nutrition, and disease. We saw how poor nutrition over time could ultimately lead to chronic health complications, like diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer. It is sometimes difficult for young people to think that far down the line, which got us thinking, “how can we help people from a prevention standpoint?” 

Molly: Making dietary changes isn’t easy for anyone. It takes a combination of motivation, discipline, and willingness to be flexible. Our goal is to help clients reach their health goals by setting small, measurable objectives along the way while still enjoying whole, real, and natural foods. Leah and I share this health philosophy and knew we wanted to work together in a space where we could really instill lifestyle changes. We came to the conclusion that we would be able to reach the widest array of people, and of course, most conveniently, by conducting virtual sessions. So far our clients are VERY happy with this. 

Leah: We’re still learning new lessons all of the time! So far, the most important lesson I have learned is to be flexible and stay open to new ideas. Whether it’s a new partnership, product, or recommendation for clients, I’ll never know the outcome unless I give it a chance. Of course it is important to exercise judgement and maintain a line of focus, so my passion and purpose never stray too far from one another. But generally speaking, tunnel vision can only get you so far. 

Molly: As Leah said, we’re constantly learning and adjusting accordingly along the way. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to constantly try to see things from different perspectives and take advice from those who have been around longer than us. It’s easy to get really excited about new ideas and we are always eager to execute, but it’s equally important to use mentors as a soundboard. Additionally, brainstormingwith friends in the field has been important, but sometimes those outside the industry bring a fresh viewpoint. 

5. What is one food/ingredient that our readers should stay away from? One they should always have in their pantry? 
Leah: Stay away from foods that are neon. Your fingers just shouldn’t be bright orange after you eat something. On the flip side, keep a nut butter (ie. peanut butter, almond butter) on hand in your pantry. It’s always an easy go-to to top a fiber cracker or throw into a smoothie. 

Molly: Protein bars. There are so many great, natural sources of protein so I see no need to have a processed, sugary protein bar. For my clients who are pressed for time, I suggest throwing together a ziplock of nuts or Justin’s individual packets of almond butter in their bags. Both are excellent sources of natural protein along with healthy fats for sustained energy. I always have blueberries in my refrigerator. I throw them in my yogurt, oatmeal, smoothies, or eat them plain for a boost of fiber and antioxidants. 

Love them as much as we do?
Follow: @tovitanutrition for some healthy inspiration