It’s no coincidence that when you wake up after a bad night’s sleep the idea of a sugary, carb-loaded treat can be extremely tempting, but did you know that by submitting to cravings you could be entering into a vicious circle of bad diet, weight gain and poor sleep?
A lack of sleep means that you’re starting the day with very little energy, as you haven’t had the restorative, rejuvenating effects that good sleep delivers. This low energy reserve forces your body into something of an ‘emergency’ state, where the demand for fuel becomes urgent. This body does this by adjusting the production of two particular hormones.
Firstly, levels of the hormone Ghrelin, which determines hunger, are ramped up, which makes you feel ravenous. Not only are you extremely hungry, you’re hungry for particular types of food - those high in carbohydrates. While these aren’t all necessarily bad, there’s a good chance that the ones you choose in this state will be, as you’re not exactly at your most selective and discerning when you’re essentially craving quick energy.
Secondly, almost cruelly, the body limits levels of the hormone Leptin, which tells us when we’ve eaten enough and are full. The idea of limiting food consumption isn’t on the body’s agenda when energy levels are low, so normal portion control is ignored.
These reactions generally result in us making bad food choices and eating excessively. The types of food that is tempting in this state are sugary, fatty and junky - and while these deliver a sudden ‘hit’ of energy (which feels good), they don’t have the ability to provide lasting benefits. The nutritional value of these foods is negligible, and by over-eating to simply stay awake the risk of weight gain becomes prominent.
It is often said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and it’s not hard to see why. Poor choices first thing in the morning can cause knock-on effects to your appetite and food intake for the rest of the day, so it’s worth thinking about exactly what you’re eating for breakfast. Food and drink with high sugar content may be particularly tempting, but they’re classic causes of a mid-morning energy slump. Alternatively, whole grains - like those found in certain cereals and breads - take longer to digest and release energy gradually over a period of hours, which makes them ideal at breakfast time. Making the right food choices at breakfast can reduce the chances of cravings for quick energy hits throughout the day ahead.
One of the most effective ways in avoiding junk food when the temptation arises is to simply not have any in the house. Another way, apocryphal-sounding but true, is to not go food shopping on an empty stomach, as the treats and sweets can appear to be irresistibly tempting when you’re feeling hungry, and you’re likely to end up with a cupboard-full of junk food - not ideal the next time you wake up after a bad night’s sleep.
Sleep quality and appetite are inextricably linked, and the body’s natural reaction to sleep deprivation can quickly force you into bad dietary habits. By being conscious of the importance of sleep and making sure that your diet is sufficient for your energy requirements you’re avoiding potentially unhealthy weight gain.