Less Sleep, More Cravings?

August 12, 2013

Sleep is one of the pillars of good health but how should you prioritize it? Work out more and sleep less? Find out here

Are you waking up early to get in a workout before you head to work, or vice versa and staying up late to get some extra exercise? There have been many studies linking our weight to the amount of time we sleep, and the newest of the bunch found that too little shut-eye makes us more likely to reach for doughnuts or pizza than for whole grains and leafy greens. UC Berkeley researchers examined the regions of the brain that control food choices and found impaired activity in the sleep-deprived brain’s frontal lobe, which governs complex decision-making, but increased activity in deeper brain centers that respond to rewards. Moreover, the participants favored unhealthy snack and junk foods when they were sleep deprived.

Another important study found that a lack of sleep plays havoc with our fat cells, which could lead to weight gain and type 2 diabetes. We all know how cranky and foggy we feel when we haven’t slept enough but now researchers have confirmed that lack of sleep actually influences our hormones, specifically our hunger hormones.

Specifically that sleep deprivation increases levels of our hunger hormone, ghrelin, and decreases levels of our satiety hormone, leptin. The researchers also found that insulin is affected by lack of sleep, causing decreases in insulin’s sensitivity, which ultimately can lead to type 2 diabetes.

The takeaway here from both studies is to prioritize sleep. Turn the television and computer off at least an hour before you plan to go to bed; the extra stimulation can make it hard to fall asleep. Some other tips include sleeping in complete darkness and avoiding caffeine in the afternoon and evening – for some any caffeine, even if it is first thing in the morning can affect sleep. Pay attention to the messages from your body!

Here are some tips on foods to help us sleep:

Eating complex carbohydrates can help us get to sleep, allowing the uptake of tryptophan, a amino acid, that triggers the body to produce serotonin, the neurotransmitter that tells the body to slow down and drift to sleep.

Foods high in tryptophan include: dairy products, soy products, seafood, turkey, whole grains, beans, rice, hummus, lentils, hazelnuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds.

Popular evening snacks and drink ideas:

Herbal infusions. These are really not teas, since they do not have tea leaves, but they are called infusions. Chamomile and valerian are commonly used to help with sleep and may help because of their relaxing and calming qualities. You need to be careful, since some plants are stimulating rather than relaxing, and people's bodies react to different plants in different ways, but in general, herbal "teas" are probably okay at night.

Other helpful meals and snacks include, pasta with Parmesan cheese, scrambled eggs and cheese, tofu stir-fry, hummus with whole wheat bread or crackers, tuna salad sandwich, bananas, and chili with beans but not spicy!

Make sure you don’t eat too late and keep the meals before bed light.

For more on the UC Berkeley study click here.