sleepHave you ever thought it was strange how, if you are very tired you feel hungrier? Well it’s not your imagination; several studies over the years have shown that lack of sleep can really make you feel hungrier and gain weight. Insomnia and weight gain are linked; your diet can affect production of the sleep hormone melatonin whilst the amount of sleep you get can affect levels of ghrelin and leptin, which tell your body when you are hungry and when you are full.

Diet can help you sleep

We all need a healthy diet to maintain our general health. But some food types can help our muscles and nerves to relax and help to produce the hormones we need to get to sleep. An irregular diet can interrupt our sleep rhythm and make it harder to sleep. Additionally, a bad night’s sleep can make us reach for the coffee and sugary foods as a pick me up to get through a long tiring day on not enough sleep.

If you are tired you are likely to graze more and be less active, maybe drive to work instead of walking, or skip the gym. And so the vicious cycle begins; you’re tired so you eat poorly and do less exercise, but because you aren’t eating the right foods at the right time and skipping physical exercise it is harder to get to sleep at night.

Sleep can help you lose weight

The average adult needs around 7.5 hours of sleep a night, although the needs of an individual can vary between 6 and 9 hours. If you are getting enough sleep, then sleeping for longer isn’t suddenly going to make you drop the pounds. However, if you are consistently not getting enough sleep, (anything less than 6 hours) then upping your nightly sleep to 7.5 hours can make you lose weight.

This is because, as part of your daily rhythm we produce hormones that make us feel tired or hungry. We use these hormones as a guide to our daily routine and our bodies are trained to stick to this rhythm from when we are babies. If the rhythm is interrupted by, for example, lack of sleep, the hormones that we need to regulate our day may not be produced in the right volume.

Our hunger and appetite are controlled by two hormones; ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin tells us that we are hungry and leptin tells us when we are full. If we don’t get enough sleep we produce too much ghrelin, so feel hungrier, and not enough leptin, so it takes more to fill us up. One study showed that people who slept for 5 hours or less had 15% more ghrelin and 15% less leptin, and another showed that with just four hours’ sleep, cohorts produced 18% leptin and 28% more ghrelin, which explains why, when you are tired, you feel hungrier and eat more.

What can you do?

Try eating a normal healthy diet and if you have slept badly or for a short time the night before try not to reach for the carbohydrates and sugary foods! Stick to a balanced diet, exercise and go to bed at a normal time in order to prevent your sleep cycle from turning into a vicious cycle of sleeping less, eating more and gaining wait.

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