Having an adequate, high-quality, restful sleep is an important part of adhering to healthy eating plans. Metabolic problems associated with overeating include high body mass index (BMI) and long-term health risks like obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some types of cancer. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults aged 18-64 years should have sleep duration of 7-9 hours every day (Hirshkowitz, Whiton & Albert et al., 2015).
Sleep-related problems can affect how our bodies regulate food intake and can increase hunger and our appetite to eat more food.
Sleeping and appetite are intricately related. It affects the release of hormones in two major pathways namely, the hypothalamic-pituitary axes and the autonomous nervous system. It influences the release of hormones by the pituitary gland through activation of hypothalamic-releasing and/or hypothalamic-inhibiting factors controlling pituitary function. On the other hand, sleep affects the peripheral endocrine regulation through the modulation of autonomic nervous system activity (Cauter, Knutson, Leproult & Spiegel, 2005).
During deep sleep, the activity of the sympathetic nervous system usually decreases whereas the parasympathetic nervous system activity increases. Sleep deprivation is linked to an increased sympathovagal balance, with higher sympathetic but lower sympathetic activity. Most endocrine organs are more sensitive to changes in sympathovagal balance to stimulate or suppress the release of hormones responsible to regulate energy balance and food intake in the body. For example, insulin secretion by the pancreas and the release of an appetite-suppressing hormone by fat cells, leptin (Tuck, 2017).
The impact of sleep on appetite has been studied on leptin and ghrelin, hormones controlling appetite (Cauter, Knutson, Leproult & Spiegel, 2005). Leptin is a hormone released by white adipocytes (fat cells) that signals satiety to the hypothalamus in the brain; thus, suppressing appetite and stimulating energy expenditure. The secretion of leptin is primarily regulated by insulin-induced changes in adipocyte metabolism. Conversely, ghrelin is a peptide hormone secreted by the stomach that stimulates appetite, fat production and body growth (Prinz, 2004). Recent studies in humans have shown that sleep loss correlates to increased food intake and body weight, which relates to the high caloric demands of prolonged wakefulness. Sleep deprivation reduces the levels of leptin (appetite-suppressant) and elevates the levels of ghrelin (appetite-stimulant); hence, increasing hunger and appetite (National Sleep Foundation, 2019).
In addition to appetite-regulating hormones, sleep loss causes significant changes in the reward center of the brain. The emotional center of the brain known as amygdala shows increased activity and sensitivity to negative emotions due to fatigue associated with sleep deprivation. At the same time, the prefrontal lobe of the brain that is responsible for logical thinking becomes less active. These changes in the brain affect an individual’s ability to make healthy decisions related to food, including eating behavior and spending choices, as well as adhering to a well-balanced meal plan (Porter, 2018). Studies have shown an increase in the amounts of high-calorie foods purchased during sleep deprivation. The researchers hypothesized that elevated levels of ghrelin contributed to the increased cravings of the unhealthy foods by both the body and the brain; hence, high purchases of high-calorie foods (Breus, 2013).
How to Develop Good Sleep Hygiene
Our bodies control the sleep-wake cycle through regular 24-hour cycles known as circadian rhythms. The light, both natural and artificial, influence these rhythms; thus, it is essential to reduce as much light as possible in our bedrooms during the night to help in stimulating the release of the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin (Porter, 2018). Developing good sleep hygiene begins by ensuring that you have a comfortable mattress, which is ideal for your preferred sleeping positions. Your beddings, curtains, and pillows should be clean and non-allergic, preferably cotton and linen to facilitate a cool temperature and a comfort-zone for breathing while sleeping (Dr. Mercola, 2010).
Additionally, there is a need to adopt habits and behaviors that encourage healthy sleep such as regular physical exercises and eating healthy regularly spaced meals. Other healthy nighttime behaviors that promote sleep hygiene, includes observing a consistent and routine bedtime, which trains the brain in releasing melatonin consistently at the same time on a daily basis. You should also manage your stress before going to bed through daily yoga and meditation, stress is a major cause of insomnia. Stimulants, beverages, and drinks containing high amounts of caffeine and nicotine should be avoided as they inhibit the release of the sleeping hormones, causing sleep disruptions (Dr. Mercola, 2010).
What Are the Health Benefits of Sleep?
Sleep and your health are strongly interconnected in a myriad of ways. Research has shown that sleep deprivation has a devastating effect on your immune system as physical stress or illness (Tuck, 2017). Having interrupted or impaired sleep not only harms your brain but also affects the normal functioning of other body organs including the heart, liver, and kidney. Consequently, this increases the risks of developing neurological diseases, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, diabetes, cancer, and premature death (Dr. Mercola, 2010). In fact, having enough sleep is part of a healthy lifestyle plan that comes with several benefits including:
- Better sex life. Impaired sleep increases physical fatigue and reduced sex drive
- Lowers risks of injury
- Regulates mood and improve social interaction
- Helps in weight management
- Improves your cognition, attention, and decision-making
- Boost memory and brain function
- Improves your immune system
- Enhance athletic or physical performance
- Improves your skin health. Makes you look younger and live longer.
Source (WebMD, 2011 and Dr. Mercola, 2010).
It is worth noting that sleep deprivation affects appetite by disrupting the hormones that regulate food intake and energy balance in the body. Adopting an adequate, high-quality, and healthy sleep hygiene is a stepping step to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It helps to prevent and manage the numerous life-threatening health risks associated with metabolic problems of overeating.
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