When I don’t get enough sleep due to staying out with my friends on the weekends, I seem to crave high-fat, high-sugar foods the next day. I already have a few extra pounds to battle and this isn’t helping. Is there a reason I crave these? I even have difficulty sleeping the next night. I never feel rested for work on Monday. Do you have suggestions?
Battling the Bulge
Dear Battling the Bulge,
Sleep deprivation and running low on energy will naturally create the decision-making part of your brain to automatically chose unhealthy foods over healthy options. Your tired brain follows your basic cravings whatever that craving may be.
The brain cleans itself only when you are sleeping. There is no way to rush the cleaning process; it just needs the time. Most people don’t realize that eating a high-fat diet on a regular basis leads to more fragmented sleep. The link between what you eat and how well you sleep was evaluated in a study for sleep patterns of more than 4,500 people. There was a distinct dietary pattern among short and long sleepers.
- Very short sleepers (less than 5 hours a night): Had the least food variety, drank less water and consumed fewer total carbohydrates and less lycopene (an antioxidant found in fruits and vegetables).
- Short sleepers (5-6 hours): Consumed the most calories, but ate less vitamin C and selenium, and drank less water. Short sleepers tended to eat more lutein and zeaxanthin than other groups – kiwi fruit, grapes, spinach, orange juice, zucchini, squash; which all have substantial amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin (30-50 percent). Any fruit and vegetable with various colors will have a relatively high content of lutein and zeaxanthin.
- Normal sleepers (7-8 hours): Had the most food variety in their diet, which is generally associated with a healthier way of eating.
- Long sleepers (9 or more hours): Consumed the least calories as well as less theobromine (found in chocolate and tea), less choline and total carbs. Long sleepers tended to drink more alcohol.
As for what this data means, researchers aren’t yet sure, but it does mean that eating a varied diet is one key to normal, healthful sleep.
Ideally, try to avoid eating any food three hours before bed as this will optimize your blood sugar level and contribute to a restful sleep.
When you get home late from being out with your friends, there is no snacking unless you plan to stay up another three hours. Avoiding food for at least three hours before bed prevents too much sugar from floating around. Additionally, if you don’t eat, you will actually shift your body to fat-burning mode. It doesn’t hurt to feel a little hungry before bed. Note: Any bread products create the sugar high to your brain even if it doesn’t have much sugar content, only contributing to cravings the next day and the cycle continues.
If you need some help in this area, check out a nutrition plan online for a step-by-step guide to optimizing your regular eating habits. My best tip: Deliberately get normal amounts of sleep on a consistent basis and pick an eating plan you can make as a lifestyle forever for yourself. Use moderation and variety!