Can Poor Sleep Cause You to Eat More?

People will blame things like carbs, or sugar, or other types of foods for their weight gain.

Or their lack of exercise.

And while overeating and not exercising over time can cause weight gain, we forget to look over a very important aspect of our lives that plays a major role in how our body functions.

Your sleep.

Research shows that If you constantly get poor sleep you will pay for it. Your health declines, you make poorer decisions, you don’t think as effectively.

But poor sleep can also affect your hunger levels as well as your activity levels, which play a MAJOR role in weight management.

For example, in this study by Zhu, et al. (2019) they showed that a single night of sleep restriction causes increases in hunger and calorie intake

“Insufficient sleep is a significant risk factor for weight gain”

– Brandon Roberts (Weighttology)

In this article, I want to go over exactly how poor sleep can effect your fitness/nutrition goals, as well as how quickly you can make up poor sleep.

Finally we will finish with some tips to improve your sleep quality.

How sleep affects our food intake and activity levels

Eating more when you get less sleep makes sense since you are awake longer. It also can be easy to conclude that since you are up longer you also burn more calories. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case.

One study showed that poor sleep lead to an average of 364 more calories consumed the following day, but there was no increase in activity (Al Khatib, et al., 2017).

Spaeth et al., (2020) showed that following sleep restriction, we are more likely to move less. More in the form of steps, in the study they saw a 31% decrease in their steps following a night of poor sleep.

In this article the authors mention that when someone got poor sleep they had significant increases in subjective hunger, caloric intake, and weight gain.

The authors also found that when sleep-restricted, the participants ate 20% more calories on average and tended to eat less protein, while increasing their sugar and saturated fat intake.

As we know, protein is great at helping keep you feeling full.

Another interesting thing they found was that when people were sleep restricted (which led to an increase in calories) they tended to eat those extra calories late at night.

To sum this up, when we are getting poor sleep, we simply eat more and move less.

Oh and we want to eat more, usually in the form of sugars and saturated fat.

The other takeaway is that you are more likely to eat those extra calories late at night, when you normally would be sleeping.

So if you are struggling with weight gain or losing weight, its probably a good idea to first focus on improving your sleep before you try another diet.

By getting more sleep you have less cravings, move more, and you are more likely to eat less.

How quickly can you recover from poor sleep?

In the recent issue of Weightology, Brandon Roberts discussed the study from Spaeth et al., which looked at how quickly you can recover from a poor nights sleep.

So we know that getting a poor nights sleep can lead to an increase in cravings, hunger, food intake, and a decrease in physical activity.

But how quickly can you get back to normal once you do get good sleep?

The good news is that the study found that following poor sleep, one good night of sleep can be enough to get everything back to normal.

They found that calorie consumption went back to normal following a good night of sleep, some even saw a small decrease in calorie consumption from previous baseline numbers, albeit a small decrease. Brandon Roberts believes this could be the body making up for the extra calorie intake from the days following poor sleep.

Basically, overeating was only on the days following poor sleep, once you get a good night’s sleep you should be back to normal.

This is great news, because if you do have some poor nights of sleep, all you need to do is get right back on track.

Practical Application

My main point with this article is to make you aware of what might happen the days following poor sleep.

Now that you are aware of what normally happens following a night of poor sleep you can fight this by staying more active and being more mindful of your eating and knowing why you are feeling more hungry.

And try to get a good nights sleep ASAP.

Rather than blaming it on genetics or whatever else.

Tips to improve sleep and how to manage your day following a poor night sleep:

With online clients we first focus on quality of sleep before trying to add in more sleep. Here are some ways to improve your sleep quality:

  • Consistency: Keep a relatively consistent bedtime and wake time. Staying up late and sleeping in on weekends can disrupt your routine during the week.
  • Light: Keep the bedroom extremely dark, to tell the body’s light-sensitive clock that it’s time to sleep.
  • Noise: Keep the bedroom extremely quiet or use a white noise generator (such as a fan).
  • Relaxation/routine: Develop a pre-bed routine that is relaxing and familiar. Television, work, computer use, movies and deep/stressful discussions late at night can disrupt sleep.
  • Temperature: Keep a slightly cool temperature in the room, between 66-72 F or 18-22 C.
  • Stimulants: Eliminate stimulants like caffeine/nicotine, especially later in the day.
  • Fullness: Eating a dinner that makes you overly full can disturb sleep.

Lets say you do get a bad night of sleep, here is how we will have online clients manage that the following day:

  • Aim for a step goal. As we found out, your body will naturally want to be lazier following a poor night of sleep. Fight this by making sure you hit a step goal for the day. That way you are more likely to stay active.
  • Focus on eating more filling foods. We know following a poor night’s sleep that you are more likely to undereat protein and overeat sugar and saturated fat. So aim to get a lean source of protein at each meal the following day, as well as increasing your vegetable intake for the day.
  • Caffeine. Look at drinking a little more caffeine earlier in the day to help with lowering your hunger levels as well as increasing your energy levels. However, avoid drinking caffeine too late in the day as this can negatively affect your sleep.
  • Get a good night’s sleep ASAP. While a poor night’s sleep can hurt you the following day (increased hunger and calorie intake, decreased activity levels), it appears that following multiple nights of poor sleep, just one night of good sleep can bring everything back to normal.

References:

Zhu, B., Shi, C., Park, C. G., Zhao, X., & Reutrakul, S. (2019). Effects of sleep restriction on metabolism-related parameters in healthy adults: A comprehensive review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Sleep medicine reviews, 45, 18–30. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.smrv.2019.02.002

Al Khatib, H., Harding, S., Darzi, J. et al. The effects of partial sleep deprivation on energy balance: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur J Clin Nutr 71, 614–624 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/ejcn.2016.201

Spaeth et al. Caloric and macronutrient intake and meal timing responses to repeated sleep restriction exposures separated by varying intervening recovery nights in healthy adults. Nutrients. 12(9):2694, 2020

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