Between family life, busy social schedules, work and the latest season on Netflix, catching enough z’s is a common struggle. While we can cover up the grogginess with a strong cup of coffee, are there less obvious side effects of a short night that we need to consider? Does sleep deprivation impact what you eat? 

This was the topic of interest of a recent meta-analysis and systematic review (read: very high-quality evidence). Researchers identified multiple studies examining the effects of sleep deprivation on energy balance. They considered how short nights, between three-and-a-half and five-and-a-half hours, compared to a normal night’s sleep, between seven and ten to twelve hours, impacted the amount of food eaten, the type of food eaten and the amount of energy burned. Here’s what they found.

Sleep deprivation

  • increased the number of calories eaten by 385 calories to be exact; this is the amount you would find in a medium-size fries or a bagel with peanut butter
  • increased the amount of fat eaten and decreased the amount of protein eaten; there was no impact on carb intake
  • had no impact on the amount of energy burned

The take-away: lack of sleep could increase the amount of food you eat with a preference for foods higher in fat. 

Why is this?

There are likely many factors that play into your food choices when deprived of sleep. The researchers questioned if lack of sleep increases the motivation to use food as a reward. Other reasons include that you may not have the energy to prepare a home-cooked meal or the brainpower to make mindful choices. How many times have you reached for a snack to try to keep you awake and attentive in those drowsy afternoon hours? And if you don’t have time to sleep, it may also be difficult to find time to stock your home with nutritious choices.

Consider how your eating habits change when you’re tired. This can be a helpful exercise in making more mindful choices on tired days. 

Can you eat for a good night’s sleep?

The other side of the sleep/food equation is that the food we eat can impact sleep. We are likely familiar with foods to avoid at night (i.e. coffee and alcohol), but there are also foods that can aid sleep. For example, foods containing tryptophan, such as turkey or dairy, combined with a carb.

Here are some sleep-inducing snack ideas with recipes to get you started:


Keep your snack on the light side as too much food in your stomach can work against a good night’s sleep. Check out this link for more snack ideas. 

The bottom line

When it comes to sleep, keep the big picture in mind. A short night here or there won’t impact your health. However, if sleep deprivation is a constant struggle, consider how this extends into other areas of life, such as your eating habits and ability to stay active.

Looking for more information to help you get the recommended seven to nine hours? Sleep.org is a great resource with information on everything from the science behind sleep to how to design your bedroom for sleep. 

Here’s to sound sleeping and nutritious eating!

 AFLCA members

Are you looking for practical nutrition tools for your clients? Log in to the AFLCA Members section of the website and order free resources today!

 


Share this post

Kristina Isaac, RD.

Registered Dietitian

Kristina (BSc, RD) is a registered dietitian and blogger for Nourish Move Thrive. She enjoys finding creative, fun and simple ways to communicate the science of nutrition.

Sign up to receive Nourish Move Thrive updates twice a month!