When you’re short on sleep, it’s easy to lean on a large latte to get moving. You might be tempted to skip exercise (too tired), get takeout for dinner, and then turn in late because you’re uncomfortably full.
If this cascade of events happens a few times each year, no problem. Trouble is, nearly two-thirds of Americans aren't getting enough sleep during a typical week Yet experts agree that getting enough shut-eye is as important to health, well-being, and your weight as diet and exercise.
Your Sleepy Brain
So it’s a little like being drunk. You don’t have the mental clarity to make good decisions.
Plus, when you’re overtired, your brain's reward centers rev up, looking for something that feels good. So while you might be able to squash comfort food cravings when you’re well-rested, your sleep-deprived brain may have trouble saying no to a second slice of cake.
Research tells the story. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that when people were starved of sleep, late-night snacking increased, and they were more likely to choose high-carb snacks.
A second study found that sleeping too little prompts people to eat bigger portions of all foods, increasing weight gain. And in a review of 18 studies, researchers found that a lack of sleep led to increased cravings for energy-dense, high-carbohydrate foods.
Add it all together, and a sleepy brain appears to crave junk food while also lacking the impulse control to say no.
Sleep is like nutrition for the brain. Most people need between 7 and 9 hours each night. Get less than that, and your body will react in ways that lead even the most determined dieter straight to Ben & Jerry’s.