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Being Tired Makes Healthy Eating Harder - Here's Why

Do you struggle with overeating in the evenings? Feel out of control around food? Feel like you can’t stop turning to foods high in sugar, and can't stop eating them once you open the packet? There are probably several reasons for this, but you shouldn’t overlook the impact that poor sleep is having on your eating behaviours.

Poor sleep can have a significant impact on how hungry you feel, which foods you crave and your ability to make healthy food choices.

What contributes to poor quality sleep? Here's some examples:

  • Going to sleep too late

  • Having an inconsistent sleep schedule

  • Waking up frequently during the night

  • Not getting enough hours of sleep

  • Napping to ‘catch up’ on sleep

  • Having difficulty falling and staying asleep

Various biological and neurological mechanisms occur when we don’t sleep well. When it comes to our eating decisions, hormones and brain regions related to appetite, food cravings and food reward can all be affected.

Are you ready for the rap sheet? Here it is.

Sleep deprivation/poor sleep contributes to:

  • Increased levels of ghrelin (the hormone that makes us feel hungry)

  • Decreased levels of leptin (the hormone that tells us when we're full)

  • Extended ‘feeding window’, aka the amount of available awake hours we have, therefore more opportunities to eat/experience cravings and hunger

  • Neurological 'reward' feeling of food becomes more active and exaggerated

  • An increased in appetite and desire for high calorie foods, particularly foods high in sugar and fat

  • A decreased ability to control our food intake

  • An increased desire/appetite for high sugar/fat foods in the evening, after dinner

  • An increased tendency to overeat in response to low mood

On top of this, poor sleep can affect the regions of our brain that perceive risk and reward. As a result, we tend to:

  • Feel less concerned about losses

  • Feel more attracted to risky behaviour

  • Having a lower response to negative consequences

  • Become more attuned and enticed by the benefit of immediate rewards

  • Are more likely to say no to things like exercise, going to bed on time, or offers to consume alcohol

If this all rings true for you, it may be time to have an honest conversation with yourself about how you could improve your sleep habits.

The good news is, there’s plenty you can do to improve your sleep!

Here are the best, evidence-based tips:

Have a fixed sleep and wake up time- try to go to bed at the same time each night, and wake at the same time in the mornings

Remove screens at least 1 hour before going to sleep (more on this in part 2, coming soon!)

Use low lighting around the house in the evenings

Practice mindfulness/breathing exercises

Limit caffeine intake after 12pm

Avoid eating late at night

Try not to sleep during the day

Reduce alcohol intake

Don’t use your bed for watching tv, working or eating

Keep your bedroom at a cooler temperature

If you’ve tried falling asleep for 20 minutes and it hasn’t happened, get up and do something calming and low-stimulation, like reading or doing some stretches before going back to bed once you start to feel tired again.

Make gradual adjustments, acknowledge when you sleep well, and don’t throw in the towel at times when it doesn’t work.

If you'd like some support with your eating habits, and would like to know how to change your behaviour so that you don't have to be in a cycle of overeating and feeling bad about your body, you can book a private 1-to-1 session here.

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