GUEST POST: Why you might crave junk food when you're sleep deprived

Sleep deprivation and junk food go hand in hand. When you're sleep deprived, everything suffers - your energy, cognitive sharpness, mental health, and self-control. You're not living at your best, and this can throw off healthy functions that support good nutrition, including satiety hormones.

Adults that don't sleep enough are more prone to be obese. In fact, longer sleep is associated with lower BMI and favorable metabolic profiles in adults. Short sleep is associated with greater risk of metabolic diseases, such as obesity.

How Sleep Loss Leads to Weight Gain

Losing sleep tends to make people eat more and gain weight. One reason is the impact sleep deprivation has on the brain.

Just one night of sleep deprivation changes the way your brain responds to high-calorie junk foods. When you're sleep deprived, fattening foods such as potato chips and sweets stimulate a stronger response in the brain that governs the motivation to eat. At the same time, there is a sharp reduction in frontal cortex activity, which governs consequences and rational decisions.

Some of this effect can be attributed to disrupted hormone regulation when you're sleep deprived. When you don't get enough sleep, leptin (the satiety hormone) production decreases, while ghrelin (the hunger hormone) production increases. As a result, your brain thinks it's hungrier more often, encouraging you to eat more even when you don't need to do so.

How to Sleep Well and Support Better Food Choices

When you sleep well, you're better able to manage self-control and make smart food choices. Make sleep a priority with these tips:

  • Schedule enough time to sleep. The average adult needs seven to seven and a half hours of sleep each night. Consider your schedule and make sure you're leaving enough time to sleep, plus extra time to get in bed, fall asleep, and wake up.

  • Maintain regular sleep habits. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each night and day, so your body learns to predict when it's time to go to sleep and wake up, which will make it easier to get rest at night. Maintain a regular bedtime routine, which can also make it easier to fall asleep by helping give your body signals that it's bedtime and time to wind down. Your bedtime routine can include calming activities, such as reading a book or taking a bath before bed.

  • Be careful about what you eat before bed. Certain foods can interfere with healthy sleep, making it difficult to get the rest you need at night. Caffeine, alcohol, and heavy meals are common culprits. In general, food with lots of sugar or fat will be hard to digest at night. It's best to avoid heavy meals and food with lots of sugar or fat just before bed, as digesting these while you sleep shifts your body's focus away from rest.


Selina Hall is an expert on sleep health and wellness for She believes that sleep is one of the most important pillars of health. Selina lives in Portland, Oregon. She sleeps best under a handmade quilt passed down from her great-grandmother.

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