I am writing this post at 10:00pm on a Saturday night. It’s way past my bedtime, but between coming down with a cold and feeling particularly anxious lately, I find myself up late, creating content. And what better nutrition question to write about than how sleep impacts hunger and nutrition!
I remember learning about how sleep impacts hunger and fullness cues, and overall health during my MS in human nutrition program. One of my professors did a lot of sleep research, and she was very passionate about the topic. I always found it kind of funny to learn about the importance of sleep and the detrimental impacts of stress in very stressful, time-consuming, sleep-depriving programs.
Anyways, today we are going to chat answer questions about sleep, and how sleep impacts hunger and fullness cues, and overall wellbeing. Grab some cozy PJs and get ready to read!
*Disclaimer: As always, this is general information intended for healthy adults to gather general information. Your needs may vary based on medical status, lifestyle, or life-stage. Please never replace generalized health information you’ve read online with individualized clinical care.
How Sleep Deprivation Messes with your health: It’s all about the hormones
Sleep is the natural, reversible loss of consciousness. And it’s super important to maintaining homeostasis. In addition to allowing your body time to repair itself, sleep supports growth and development, proper immune function, and plays a large role in regulating pathways that affect the central nervous system and metabolism.
Poor sleep quality or sleep deprivation influences the body’s neuroendocrine and stress responses (many believe this is through the body’s hypothalmic-pituitary-axis, or HPA for short). This means, it regulates a lot of hormones related to stress and subsequently metabolism.
Sleep and Cortisol
Sleep deprivation can increase your body’s level of cortisol – a stress hormone. Cortisol can play a large role in regulating other hormones, including those related to appetite and reward systems (more on that below).
Elevated cortisol levels have been shown to increase intake of highly palatable foods, and encourage overeating by influencing the brain’s reward systems.
Excessive cortisol levels may send your body into a “flight-or-fight” mode, and shut down any unessential functions. This includes things like digestion and reproduction.
So, if your cortisol levels are high, due to a lack of sleep, and/or other life . stressors, you may experience some digestive issues, including slower gastric emptying, or acceleration of intestinal transit (meaning it impacts the speed at which your food gets through your GI tract and into the toilet).
How Sleep Impacts Hunger and Fullness Hormones:
Otherwise, know this: When you are sleep deprived, the level of ghrelin (the hormone that signals to your body that you are hungry) in your body increases. This means, you may feel hungrier if you didn’t sleep enough.
I personally have experienced ravenous hunger upon extended stints of inadequate sleep, and maybe you have too. Whether I’m traveling for days on end, am trying to truck through finals week, or for whatever reason, have several nights in a row where I’m just not sleeping well, I notice I feel much snackier, and this is likely because my homeostatic control of ghrelin is a little off.
But it’s not just ghrelin that’s thrown off. Leptin, the hormone that makes you feel full, is decreased with sleep deprivation. That means, not only are you hungrier if you don’t sleep enough, you’re also less likely to feel satiated.
The increase in ghrelin and decrease in leptin brought about by sleep deprivation may have a direct impact on how much you eat.
Sleep and Insulin
Sleep also impacts how your body reacts to insulin. Insulin is a hormone that controls the amount of glucose (sugar) in your blood.
When you don’t get enough sleep, your body is less sensitive to insulin, you are more likely to experience insulin resistance.
Some studies suggest that even one night of partial sleep deprivation can induce insulin resistance in multiple metabolic pathways, which, if left ongoing, may increase an individual’s risk of type II diabetes and other metabolic diseases.
While more research needs to be done in this area, sleep’s impact on insulin is compelling, and should be considered when discussing the role of sleep in nutritional outcomes.
Sleep is important – so don’t sleep on it. ;-). Sleep plays a hormone regulation, immune function, and is important for proper growth and development. In addition, sleep impacts hunger and nutrition by impacting hormones related to hunger and fullness.
Sleep deprivation increases your hunger hormone, decreases your fullness hormone, and may make you more likely to reach for highly palatable foods, all of which may impact what you eat, and how much.
The exact amount you need varies, but most adults need 7-8 hours, teens need 9-10, and growing children may need 10 or more, depending on their age.
Prioritizing sleep is important for overall health. While it’s tempting to think we’re invincible, and prioritize work, school, or socializing over catching enough Zzz….getting enough sleep is key to living a healthy lifestyle, no matter your age or dietary patterns. Rest up!
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