The Link Between Lack of Sleep and Cravings

Cravings can be the worst, but having a healthy sleeping schedule can help you avoid them so you can stay on track with your fitness goals.

The Link Between Lack of Sleep and Cravings
Photo by Vladislav Muslakov / Unsplash
María Rubio María Rubio
5 min read

Food cravings definitely aren’t a new feeling – we’ve all been there many times before. Whether you’re craving something for its flavor, such as sweet or salty, or for its texture, such as crunchy foods, it can be very difficult to fight off the urge to bite into your favorite snack as soon as the craving hits.

And while food cravings can happen for many reasons, it’s often a major side effect of lack of sleep. Yes, insufficient sleep can make you tired, but it can also affect your life in many other ways, such as increasing your cravings during the day. There are a few things you can do to deal with food cravings, but if you want to make sure you don’t get them as often, start by taking care of your sleep!

To better understand the importance of having a good night’s sleep, particularly if you’re on a weight loss journey, we’ll show you how sleep and hunger are related and how you can improve your sleep through food.

Does lack of sleep cause weight gain?

The short answer is: yes!

When it comes to our weight, we tend to consider food and exercise as the only factors that can alter it, but there’s a third one that’s just as important – our hormones. During deep sleep, your body regulates your metabolism and hormone production and takes them to a healthy level, allowing you to start a new day feeling fresh and well-rested.

However, lack of sleep does the complete opposite. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body doesn’t have enough time to regulate your hormones, so you might wake up with altered levels of cortisol (stress hormone) as well as ghrelin and leptin (hunger hormones). So, not only will you wake up more tired since you had fewer hours of sleep, but you’ll also be grumpy and hungry – the perfect recipe for disaster.

The relationship between sleep, hunger, and food cravings has been backed by several studies, such as one published by the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. The sleep study found that a group of sleep-deprived people appeared more hungry and were far more likely to choose high-calorie foods than a well-rested group of people, showing a direct correlation between lack of sleep and unhealthy food cravings. [1]

To paint a more relatable picture, imagine you go to sleep very late one day and only get a total of 4 hours of sleep. When you wake up, you’re probably too tired to function properly, so you go straight to the kitchen to find your favorite pre-packed comforting food to make you feel better about not sleeping enough. Later in the day, you still feel tired, so you decide to skip your workout for the day and instead order some junk food because you crave it.

Now the day is over and you didn’t get to burn all those calories as energy, so it remains stored in your body. And what happens when you want to go to sleep? It’s very likely that you can’t because those high-calorie and sugary foods will keep you going for a while, even if you feel tired.

This can easily become a vicious cycle that can be hard to escape, and all of these factors will little by little turn into unwanted weight gain. Even if you try your best to eat healthily and work out, sleep restriction can affect this and many other areas of your life. Getting an adequate amount of sleep is crucial to avoiding several health problems, so never underestimate it!

How to improve sleep through your diet

While poor sleep may be due to many different reasons, the food that you eat can be a defining factor in how long and well you sleep. Surely, you’ve heard about not eating sugary foods just before bed, but there are other things to keep in mind in your diet if you want to make sure to get a good night’s sleep.

Limit your caffeine intake

It’s no secret that caffeine wakes you up and keeps you alert, which is why it’s such a common morning drink. Some people even resort to caffeine late at night when they need to stay awake, but if your goal is to get adequate sleep, then avoid drinking caffeine later in the day!

This means no coffee in the late afternoon or at night, but caffeine can be found in other drinks too, such as green tea. So if tea is your comfort drink to have before bed, go for chamomile or valerian root tea instead so you can have a great night’s sleep.

Avoid alcohol before bed

For some people, a few sips of alcohol can be great at getting them sleepy enough to go to bed without a problem – but the issues come later in the night. This is because alcohol can mess with your sleep cycle.

Since it can knock you out right away, you might spend your early night in the deep stage of your sleep cycle, but then you’ll spend a lot of time in the lighter stages for the rest of the night. This will result in sleeping a lot but still feeling tired when you wake up. Plus, it can worsen sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, so be careful with your alcohol intake!

Limit saturated fats

Foods such as dairy and red meat are packed with saturated fats, which take a lot longer to digest and have been linked to lighter sleep. If you want to have a deep sleep at night, make sure you don’t eat any saturated fats before you sleep.

Not only that, but try limiting your intake during the rest of the day too! Choose healthy fats instead as well as other nutrient-rich foods with enough fiber to keep your gut in good shape.

Don’t eat right before bed

…Or at least try to avoid it! Your body needs time to properly digest the food before you go to bed since digestion during sleep can be disruptive. It’s better to let your body use its energy to digest everything and then focus completely on getting you to sleep.

That said, we know that sometimes keeping a healthy eating schedule can be difficult due to work, kids, or just a busy lifestyle in general. When that happens and you only have a small time frame to get something to eat before you go to sleep, try your best to keep it light, such as eating some of your favorite steamed veggies. An empty stomach can be as bad as a full one!

Avoid spicy foods

Some spiciness here and there can be delicious and even beneficial for your heart health, but having a spicy meal at the end of the day can be a whole different experience!

Spicy foods can be tougher to digest and may cause heartburn, which is definitely not something you want happening in the middle of the night. If you’re a fan of putting red chili flakes on everything, try to hold back during dinner to avoid having a difficult night!

On top of keeping these things in mind, it’s crucial to have a healthy diet in general. This means lots of protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and all the vitamins and minerals that your body needs. And don’t forget about staying hydrated! Water plays an important role in a huge number of body processes and dehydration can also have an impact on the quality of your sleep.

Stay close to your goals by getting enough deep sleep

Remember, getting some sleep is not the same as getting deep sleep. Being stuck in the light stages of sleep can disrupt the hormone regulation process, so you should aim to get enough deep sleep by getting at least 7 hours of sleep per night. This way, you’ll make sure your body does everything it needs to do before you wake up again. And if you need some help planning meals that support healthy sleep and life in general, check out the Fit With Iulia app! The Kitchen feature can help you plan new meals, improve your favorite dishes, and keep your eating schedule organized throughout the week. Try the Fit With Iulia app and start your healthy eating journey for better sleep today!