If you’ve committed to a healthy diet but you still find yourself tempted by chips, candy, and other unhealthy snacks, it might be more than a lack of willpower at work. It could be a lack of one of the most basic biological necessities – sleep. How do you put a stop to this overpowering sugar cravings?
You make sleep a priority.
How Sleep Deprivation Changes Appetite
The average adult needs seven to nine full hours of sleep for the body to be fully rested. Any time you get less, you enter a state of sleep deprivation wherein the body changes its normal functions, including appetite control.
Before you can talk about cravings, you have to take a look at how sleep deprivation changes your appetite. Lack of sleep causes increased levels of ghrelin, a hunger hormone, and decreased levels of leptin, a satiety hormone. Basically, when you’re tired, you feel hungrier and don’t get the “full” signal as soon as you should. You’re left with the perfect conditions for overeating.
Sleep Deprivation and Increased Sugar Cravings
But, lack of sleep causes more than just a tendency to overeat. It influences the kinds of foods your body craves. A study published in SLEEP found that sleep deprivation activates the same system, endocannabinoid (eCB) system, that’s stimulated by marijuana use. This same system is also involved in energy levels and the “runner’s high.”
Participants in the study underwent two four-day tests. In one of them, they got 8.5 hours of sleep each day while during the other, they only got 4.5 hours. (The two time periods were separated by four weeks to create neutral conditions at the beginning of each period.) When sleep deprived, participants chose snacks that had 50 percent more calories and twice the fat than those they chose when well rested. Had the increase in calories continued, participants would surely have gained weight.
Adequate sleep has to be part of a healthy lifestyle. Not just to keep from overeating, but to give your body the chance to function at its best.
Fight Sugar Cravings with Better Sleep
Luckily, the quality and amount of sleep you get can be improved with good sleep habits.
However, if you experience excessive snoring or wakefulness during the night, you might need to consult a physician about an underlying sleep disorder. You can still work on developing healthy sleep habits, but a mouthguard that reduces snoring or a therapeutic pillow the puts your head and neck in the correct position can make your efforts more worthwhile.
In the meantime, here are a few habits to improve your sleep:
Consistency at Bedtime: The human body loves routine because it runs on regular 24-hour cycles. A nightly bedtime routine and consistent bedtime can all help signal the release of these hormones. Consistency allows your brain can learn when to time the release of sleep hormones, which helps you respond to them more readily.
Sleep-Promoting Bedtime Snacks: If you’re prone to late-night snacks, try eating foods that are used in the production of sleep hormones like almonds, walnuts, dairy products, and cherries.
No Screens: Electronic devices like smartphones give off a bright blue light which can suppress sleep hormones. By turning them off two to three hours before bed, you make sure your body is staying on target for a regular bedtime.
It might take some effort to build healthy sleep habits. However, once you do, you’ll help reduce sugar cravings and give yourself the gift of better health.
Alicia Sanchez is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck.com with a specialty in health and wellness. A Nashville native, Alicia finds the sound of summer storms so soothing that she still sleeps with recorded rain on her white noise machine.