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Slumber and Snacking

Medically reviewed by Smita Patel, DO, Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen on January 19, 2023

Are your mid-morning snack attacks out of control? Do your cravings seem overwhelming every time you endure a bad night’s sleep? It may not be your imagination. We already know how lack of sleep affects our appetite. Now a new study suggests it doesn’t only determine how much we eat but when we eat as well. Here’s what the research has to say about slumber and snacking.


Good Health and Good Sleep


Sleep is incredibly important. It’s as vital for your wellbeing as a well-balanced diet and regular exercise. A few years back, Russell Foster, a neuroscientist from the University of Oxford, claimed that inadequate sleep was as dangerous as smoking. It’s not as fantastic a claim as it sounds. One study linked insomnia with an increased cancer risk. Like smoking, lack of sleep has been connected to an increased risk of heart disease. It can also lead to chronic inflammation which has been linked to a host of diseases and a shortened lifespan. When you’re not well rested, your immune response is weaker — which makes you more vulnerable to a host of viruses, including the one responsible for COVID-19. 


There’s also a clear connection between sleep and appetite. For years, studies have shown that when we’re tired our bodies produce more ghrelin –– a hunger hormone that makes you crave food. At the same time, your exhausted body will be suppressing the hormone leptin –– which signals when you are full. These twin hormonal imbalances can lead to weight gain–and even–obesity in the chronically sleep deprived. 


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Food and Sleep

Food and Sleep

Tired Snackers


Now a new study shows how there are triggers that make the tired eat earlier in the day. This is an extra wrinkle for those who have embraced intermittent fasting (IF) as part of their healthy lifestyle. Research has been generally supportive of the practice, with one study demonstrating an increase in muscle and a loss of fat among athletic adherents of IF. A more comprehensive examination of studies shows IF can lower the risk of diabetes, cancers, and obesity. Although there are several popular IF techniques, the most common one is to fast for a 14-to-16 hour period every day. Many choose to break that fast with a healthy, high-protein brunch. Lack of sleep may derail that plan –– delivering to our exhausted bodies an unchecked desire to consume calories. 


Recently, self-reported information from nearly 20,000 adults who have participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey was reviewed to see how snacking correlated with sleep. Researchers looked at the forms filled out by participants, including a comprehensive list of what they ate each day along with when they ate it. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine  recommends getting seven hours of sleep daily. After examining data from people who reported they met the seven hours of daily sleep along with those who did not, they looked at when participants had a snack. Those who didn’t get sufficient sleep “…were significantly more likely to report consuming a morning snack and less likely to consume an afternoon snack…” the report noted, adding that those who didn’t get enough sleep consumed more “… protein, carbohydrate, added sugars, and caffeine from morning and evening snacks.” 


Lots of people snack. As daylight fades, even the solid sleepers enjoy the same mix of snacks, sweets, and alcoholic beverages consumed by the chronically tired. Still, the study is one more reason that anyone concerned about their diet or overall health should make getting a sound sleep a top priority.


Written by John Bankston

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