We’ve all been there. It’s late and you’re tired, but sleep at this point is out of the question because you have to prepare for something important in the morning. Your mind is crashing, ideas are sparse, and you chugged a Five Hour Energy five hours and 15 minutes ago. You need ambition and you need sustenance, but a full-scale meal at this stage in the game seems out of the question. That’s when you hit the pantry and see what grub you can scrounge up. You don’t care what it is, as long as it can get you through the night.
This is when you know sleep deprivation has taken its toll: you skip the nuts and blueberries - the health-conscious choice - and go straight for the Little Debbies. Yes, a lack of sleep can cause all of us to eat things we know we shouldn’t. And as much as we like to make excuses for indulgent behavior, there’s a great deal of science behind why we tend to overeat when facing sleep deprivation.
For starters, our body is made of cells. That’s pretty basic, right? These cells need energy, but more importantly, they need rest. When we stay up past our “bedtimes,” cells work overtime for simple tasks that are normally no problem.
Our cells’ main source of energy is derived from glucose (to be technical). Glucose is also known as sugar, and it’s used to power simple things such as muscle twitches. More importantly, glucose is used to power energy levels in our brain. The nerves and neuron paths in our brain are constantly being coated with layers of fat and glucose in order to continue the conductivity of electric impulses that power the body’s functioning systems.
Glucose can be found in most foods, but it tends to have a higher concentration in foods loaded with sugars, fats, and carbohydrates. When your body is tired, the brain thinks it needs sugar and the easiest way to get that sugar, it concludes, is from sweets. The man in your mind starts saying, “Hey, I’m running low on glucose up here. Grab a Twinkie and let’s get crackin’ compadre.” This is why you crave junk food in periods of over-tiredness (it’s not just because of the deliciousness).
According to FitDay.com:
Sleep affects the levels of several hormones in your body. Two hormones that play an important role in stimulating and suppressing your appetite are leptin and ghrelin. Leptin is produced by your body’s fat cells and is responsible for suppressing hunger. Ghrelin is released by your stomach, and stimulates your appetite. Lack of sleep lowers the levels of leptin in your blood and heightens the levels of ghrelin, which results in an increase of appetite. The reverse is also true: getting enough sleep decreases hunger and will therefore help you lose weight.
So basically, less sleep equals lower leptin. Lower leptin equals hungry body. Less sleep also equals higher ghrelin. Higher ghrelin equals hungry body - that’s a bad combination.
As bad as this all sounds, there are remedies to this dilemma. Number one, get enough sleep. Simple enough, right? Most scientists recommend a solid eight hours for the average adult. With our busy lives, many put sleep on the backburner. We buy gym memberships, drink “calorie smart” drinks, and buy organic foods, but we often forget the most important ingredient to our health: sleep. Our bodies and minds need rest, and that’s not just some lazy cop-out.
Getting those zzz’s should be a top-priority. Having an awareness of our energy levels and recognizing a sufficient sleep cycle can influence our behavior, particularly our eating habits, and simply make us perform better in our day-to-day lives. Planning your life around sleep is not a bad idea, regardless of what the world says. Losing weight and staying healthy starts with a blanket, pillow, and a comfortable bed.
Phillip Davis is a student-athlete and plays basketball at William Woods University in Fulton, MO. He is majoring in business with concentrations in marketing/advertising, management, and minor in management of information systems.