The Link Between Lack of Sleep and Sugar Cravings

Hey Angels and Alphas,

We all understand the importance of getting a good night’s sleep regularly. Hopefully, we’re all trying to get enough sleep at least most nights of the week. But according to the CDC, over a third of adults aren’t getting enough sleep. At least seven hours per night is ideal, because chronic sleep deprivation is associated with a heightened risk of developing unhealthy conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and even heart disease. 

That being said, it’s not just your body that is going to suffer — too little sleep can also cause massive amounts of mental distress, junk food cravings, and poor decision-making. Considering that some of those decisions involve your diet, the bodily effects of sleep quality and duration are compounded.

There’s a well-studied link between cravings and sleep loss.

A 2012 study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism examined the connection between junk food cravings and sleep loss. They concluded that sleep deprivation is known to stimulate your appetite and food intake, so they hypothesized that exhausted humans are more sensitive to the “rewarding food stimuli” carried by many high-calorie foods. 

After the initial study period, they discovered that participants who experienced acute sleep loss (those who weren’t allowed to sleep as much as other people) reported increased hunger and displayed changes in their brains that showed activation in responses to images of food. 

The longer that sleep deprivation lasts, the worse things become. The study showed that prolonged periods of inadequate sleep lead to a greater reward response in the anticipation of food. These changes can stimulate even more hedonic impulses to consume unhealthier food and to eat more than necessary.

Researchers noted that their findings may highlight an important mechanism that is contributing to the growing levels of obesity in Western society. In short, when we don’t sleep enough, we’re stimulating a response that leads to greater weight gain.

Not only that, aromas smell far more enticing when we’re tired.

A 2019 Northwestern University research studied specifically why we crave junk food after a night of poor sleep. Just like the Swedish study, it actually noted that sleep deprivation impacts food intake and it is closely associated with a preference toward high-calorie foods. But it also discovered that our noses might be to blame.

According to the researchers, the olfactory system goes into overdrive to identify food when we’re tired. It may also change how it communicates with the brain. This results in our nose steering many of our decision-making toward food options that are energy dense. This may be why we feel more susceptible to enticing aromas when we are exhausted. You can just picture all the commercials and cartoons where people are rising up from their bed, and as if they were on a string, they’re being pulled by the nose by the wafting scents of olfactory pleasures like coffee or bacon.

In that same study, scientists noted that individuals who slept less were more likely to snack throughout the day. Not only that, but they chose higher-calorie foods, as well.

The study’s senior author was quoted as saying that they found participants changed their food choices based on whether they were sleep deprived or not. After being sleep deprived, people ate foods with a higher energy density (more calories) such as chocolate chip cookies, potato chips, or doughnuts.

The bottom line is…

If you want to start curbing your junk food cravings, the best way to start is with a good night’s sleep. Not only will this lead you to make better food choices the next day, but if you keep it up, you’re going to feel less susceptible to the charm of high-sugar, high-fat foods. This can help you manage your weight and minimize your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and other harmful diseases.

Leave a Comment

Our Affiliates