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It can be hard to resist the call of a bag of chips or warm brownie. If you’re running on less than seven hours of sleep, your ability to make healthy food choices may be more compromised than you realize. Sleep plays an integral role in regulating appetite, metabolism, and food cravings. At the same time, the foods you eat can affect your ability to get a full night’s rest. When healthy food choices are coupled with good sleep habits, your body will function at its best so you can live an energetic, active lifestyle.
More Sleep = Better Appetite Control
Sleep deprivation, which kicks in anytime you get less than seven hours of sleep, causes your body to release more of the hunger hormone ghrelin. At the same time, your body’s fat cells release less of the satiety hormone leptin. Scientists hypothesize that the body is trying to make up for the extra calories burned during longer waking hours. Unfortunately, at night, you’re only burning an extra 17 calories per hour so it’s easy to overeat.
More Sleep = Fewer Cravings
Lack of sleep also affects the kinds of foods you crave. A 2016 study found that sleep-deprived participants chose snacks with twice the fat and 50 percent more calories than when they’d gotten a full seven to eight hours of sleep. Sleep deprivation activates the endocannabinoid system (the same system targeted by marijuana), which influences the reward center of your brain. The “rewards” your brain receives from foods high in fat and sugar increase as you get less and less sleep.
Healthy Food Choices = Better Sleep
While sleep definitely affects how much you eat and your food choices, what you eat also affects your sleep. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that a diet high in fiber and low in saturated fat resulted in more slow wave sleep. Slow wave sleep comes during the deep sleep stages, which is when your body physically and mentally recovers from daily stressors.
The timing of your meals can also influence your sleep-wake cycle. The body uses circadian rhythms, 24-hour biological and physiological cycles, to correctly time the release of sleep hormones. Healthy meals eaten at regular intervals and at the same time each day help the circadian rhythms stay in sync with the day/night schedule created by the Earth’s rotation.
Good Sleep Habits You Don’t Want to Skip
There’s much more you can do than eat healthy to improve your sleep. Here are a few changes you can make to your sleep environment and daily routine to improve the quality (and quantity) of your sleep:
Create a Sleep Haven: Your bedroom should be used for only two purposes – sleep and sex. A home gym or office should ideally be located somewhere else in the house. Relaxing bedroom decor, cool nighttime temperatures, and complete darkness further support healthy sleep.
Make Bedtime a Priority: A consistent bedtime supports your body’s circadian rhythms. Your brain will automatically start the release of sleep hormones in anticipation of bedtime. You’ll see the best results if you keep the same bedtime on both weekdays and weekends.
Develop a Nighttime Routine: The human body likes predictability. A nightly routine helps you unwind from a long stressful day and signals the brain that it’s time to release sleep hormones. Include activities that calm and soothe you like taking a warm bath or reading a book.
Healthy sleep habits and high-quality sleep go hand-in-hand. As you work toward developing better eating and sleeping habits, you’ll have the energy and stamina to live a full, active life.