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Sleeping well helps you eat well

Getting too little sleep can alter the balance of our hormones. This can lead us to eat more food and gain weight. That’s why getting enough sleep can help you to resist tempting food.

Sleep has a major impact on our health and quality of life. We need between seven and nine hours of good sleep every night in order for our body and brain to rest and recover. Less than that and our ability to concentrate may suffer, our immune system may weaken, and we end up eating more food – and often more unhealthy food – than we need to.

Woman wearing glasses and grey sweater sitting on the floor and yawning; bright stream sunlight coming through the window

Up to 300 Calories

per day are eaten by short-sleepers, people who sleep less than seven hours per night.

-St-Onge MP et al., Short sleep duration increases energy intakes but does not change energy expenditure in normal-weight individuals

One scientific study has shown that short-sleepers – people who sleep less than seven hours per day – tend to eat 300 more calories per day than people who get enough sleep. This is because they are drawn to foods with higher levels of saturated fat, like fast food, cheese and processed meats. Over a long period of time this daily increase is enough to raise the risk of obesity.

How poor sleep affects appetite

Some of the differences between well-rested and sleep-deprived people can be seen in their bodies' hormone levels. Hormones act like messengers and help regulate many of our bodily functions, including our appetite. Scientists found that people who get less than five hours of sleep a night show increased levels of the hormone ghrelin and decreased levels of hormone leptin.

Ghrelin is known as ‘the hunger hormone’ and increases our appetite by telling our brain that it is time to eat. Leptin, on the other hand, makes us stop eating by telling our brain that we are full. Because of the change in the levels of these two hormones, we experience increased hunger and appetite. This can lead to weight gain.

The same hormonal change can occur if our body clock is disrupted. This can happen if you don’t keep a regular sleeping pattern, if you work night shifts, or if you are exposed to light at night. Research has shown that these factors can also make people more at risk of developing obesity.

Woman in the blue blouse in the white covers, lying on the bed and smiling

Simple steps for better sleep

Good sleeping habits can help us to make healthy choices and improve our ability to resist tempting foods. Some simple steps are to have a regular time for going to bed and waking up, and to get at least seven hours of sleep every night. To find out more, take a look at our full list of tips in the Support and Tools section.

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  • Spaeth AM & Dinges DF. Sleep and Obesity. In: Thomas A Wadden & George A Bray (eds.). Handbook of Obesity Treatment. New York: Guilford Press 2018; 123-136.
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  • Ong J, Chirinos D & Yap B. Relationship Between Sleep Health and Your Weight: https://www.obesityaction.org/community/article-library/the-relationship-between-sleep-health-and-your-weight/ [Accessed May 2019].
  • St-Onge MP et al. Short sleep duration increases energy intakes but does not change energy expenditure in normal-weight individuals. Am J Clin Nutr 2011; 94:410–416.
  • Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The Nutrition Source: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fats-and-cholesterol/types-of-fat/#ref12 , [Accessed June 2019].
  • Markwald RR et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2013; 110:5695–700.

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