Weight Loss

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Why You Eat More When Tired or Fatigued

Balancing calories is mostly attributed to nutritional intake and exercise output but sleep is another factor to juggle. Learn how lack of sleep may be causing you to eat more and gain weight.


Eating is vital to life. So is adequate sleep.

But sleep is becoming a growing health concern, as almost 30 percent of adults are sleeping less than 6 hours. This falls short of the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep issued by the National Sleep Foundation.

What's more, obesity rates are corresponding. About 33 percent of the U.S. population is considered overweight. Upwards of 66 percent are considered to be overweight or obese.

While diet and exercise tend to be the most common risk factors for weight gain, we should not sleep on others...

Find out the links between feeling tired and increased appetite and cravings and what to do about it.

5 Reasons Why You Eat More When You're Tired

Lack of sleep may increase calorie consumption. In fact, the National Sleep Foundation reports sleep-deprived people consume an average of 549 additional calories each day. These people slept for one hour and 20 minutes less than the control group each day.

Generally, it requires a surplus of 3,500 calories to gain a pound. Over a week, these 549 calories can cause a 1 pound gain and make it difficult to maintain or lose weight. And not to mention, the overall risks of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other health conditions linked to weight gain.

But how can lack of sleep lead to greater calorie intake? These 5 reasons explain why you may be eating more when tired.

1. You feel the desire or need for quick energy.

If a 20-minute nap is out of reach, you may be grabbing for sugary, caffeinated drinks or snacks instead. When the body is deprived of sleep, it naturally kicks in cravings toward more simple carbs high in sugar.

Sweet sodas, cappuccinos, and donuts are often reached for to supply the body with quick energy. However, these "sugar highs" may last a mere 30 to 45 minutes and lead to energy crashes.

Some studies show people consume more carbs if feeling tired, too. Research from the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found no change in carb intake, but increases in fat and protein.

But regardless of the source, sleep deprivation causes the drive to consume more calories.

2. Sleep deprivation alters hunger hormones.

Hunger hormones, known as leptin and ghrelin, work to control appetite. Ghrelin helps stimulate hunger while induce leptin induces satiety.

But sleep deprivation can disturb the efficiency of hunger hormones. This causes reductions in leptin and increases in ghrelin, subsequently growing the risk of excessive food intake.

Elevations in ghrelin levels is also linked to higher calorie consumption. Snack intake was primarily in the form of carbohydrates as well.

3. Lack of sleep often disrupts brain activity.

Aside from hormones, brain disruptions may lead to inhibitions in good decision-making. In a study published in Nature Communications, sleep-deprived people preferred high-calorie foods compared to when they were well-rested.

With the use of brain scans, researchers noticed altered activity in parts of the brain. Those who were sleep-deprived had lesser responses in the cortical area, the brain portion that regulates decision-making. They also exhibited intensive activation in the amygdala, the portion responsible for regulating basic emotions.

Such altered brain activities help researchers explain why people make poorer dietary choices and eat more when fatigued.

4. The effects of being overtired heighten emotional responses.

The cycle of stress and insufficient sleep can be vicious. Stress often keeps the brain from quieting down come bedtime, while emotions are likely to be heightened following a restless night.

To compensate for such emotions, some turn to food as a comfort mechanism. Most tend to desire and crave fat and carb-laden sources.

5. The sleepless cycle can form unhealthy behaviors.

The continuous, sleepless cycle may start forming small, unhealthy behaviors that can ultimately transpire into poor, lifelong habits.

For instance, you may order a large, sugary coffee the next morning instead of a smaller size if tired. And if you stay up late the next night, you may oversleep and miss out on consuming a nutritious breakfast.

Before you realize, you are eating one large meal daily. And not to mention, snacking on calorie-dense foods to supply energy for a 12-hour work shift.

The bottom line is this: You cannot let life get in the way of your sleep hygiene. Not only does sleep directly affect physical health but emotional and mental well-being.

How to Avoid Overeating When Tired

Self-help tips to ensure adequate sleep and lower the risks of overeating may include the following:

• Stick to a bedtime routine: Forming and sticking to a routine can keep sleep and wake cycles regulated.

• Create an environment conducive to sleep: Evaluate the bedroom to ensure appropriate and ideal room temperatures, sounds, and lights. Sleep on a comfortable mattress with a cozy, but sturdy pillow as well.

• Turn off electronics: The shining light emitted from electronics can disrupt sleep regulation. So, turn off all televisions, cellphones, and other devices leading up to bed.

• Limit caffeine: Limit caffeine in the afternoon and evening hours, as drinking after mid-morning can disrupt sleep cycles come bedtime. Caffeinated products include coffee, soft drinks, energy drinks, tea, and chocolate.

• Increase activity levels throughout the day: Being active throughout the day helps facilitate a better night's rest.

• Manage stress: Stress is a common culprit for keeping people up at night. Manage stress regularly to help quiet the mind.

If still struggling to get good sleep, it is best to talk to your doctor. They can help rule out medical conditions and side effects of some medications.

For instance, people with diabetes may have elevated blood sugar levels, in which there is strong link between high glucose and fatigue. An overactive thyroid is a condition in which the thyroid gland produces high amounts of thyroid hormones. The metabolic rate increases leading to its most common symptom of weight loss, although sleep disturbances can also occur.

Written By Christy Zagarella, MS, RDN. Published on November 07, 2012. Updated on October 22, 2019.


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