Hungry? Or Just Tired?
Sweet dreams > sugary treats
We doubt we’ll have to convince you that you aren’t getting enough sleep –– you probably think the same thing every morning when your alarm goes off. But sleep deprivation doesn’t just limit your mental performance, it can compromise your efforts to eat well.
That’s because you can’t caffeinate your way out of hormone dysregulation.
For those consistently getting less than five hours of sleep a night, researchers have documented a significant difference in BMI and appetite-regulating hormones as compared with those lucky (or committed?) folks who manage eight hours every night.
Two hormones are mainly at play here: leptin and ghrelin. Leptin is produced by fat cells, and when leptin levels are low, your body takes it as a sign that your fat stores are dwindling and kicks up your appetite to save you from starvation. Ghrelin is an appetite-stimulant produced in your stomach, and also a great name for a comic book villain, if anyone is interested in pursuing that. (If so, please give us a shoutout in the dedication)
But remember: in the story of your survival, these hormones are not the bad guys. Both provide useful signals to help you determine your energy needs. At least, those signals are useful until you make a habit of taking a glorified nap every night instead of aiming for deep, restorative sleep. If you skimp on sleep, your leptin levels drop while your stomach pumps out more ghrelin, sabotaging your best-laid plans to maintain a balanced diet and compelling you to reach for sugary sources of quick energy.
Then your body gives you another biological barrier to overcome: it slows your metabolism to conserve energy. If you were lost in the woods and were up half the night fending off bears, then yeah, it’s great news that your body is trying to save energy so you can make the trek back home. If, however, you were up half the night fending off incoming emails, then the biggest threat to your health that you’ll be facing the following day is the box of pastries in the break room. And no, your hormones aren’t going to help you out with that one at all.
Clearly, our bodies aren’t well adapted for living in modern-day America, where calorie-dense food is cheap and easy to come by, and a full night of sleep is not. But we’re far from powerless: By establishing consistent evening routines and preparing emergency solutions for days when you’re having a hard time handling your cravings (we’re here for it), you can bring your hormones and your health goals into greater harmony.
So next time you’re having a hard time setting boundaries on work (or, let’s be real, your Netflix addiction), do yourself a solid and choose sleep instead.