Q: I tend to make less healthful food choices when I’m tired. Is this a real thing, or is it just me?
A: José Ordovás, PhD, leader of the Nutrition and Genomics Team at the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging answers: “You are not alone in noticing a tendency to make less healthful food choices when feeling tired. It is plausible that lack of sleep can affect your food choices and lead to a preference for less nutritious options. Although we do not have enough data to say for sure there is a causal relationship, studies have found that lack of sleep is associated with unhealthy food choices and an increase in overeating.
“Sleep plays an important role in regulating hunger and appetite-related hormones, such as ghrelin, which is assocated with hunger, and leptin, which is responsible for signaling fullness. Lack of sleep has been found to elevate ghrelin levels and decrease leptin levels, leading to increased hunger and appetite. Moreover, it also impacts brain regions that influence our thoughts about food.
“A study done by University of Chicago researchers found that sleep-deprived participants were unable to resist ‘highly palatable, rewarding snacks,’ like cookies, chips and candy. Researchers found that sleep restriction boosts a signal that may increase the pleasure and satisfaction gained from eating. However, it is important to note that further research is needed to deepen our understanding of the mechanisms linking inadequate sleep with the increased risk of weight gain.
“The relationship between sleep and dietary intake may go both ways: a systematic review of studies found that consumption of healthy foods was associated with better sleep quality, while higher intake of processed foods and foods high in added sugars was associated with lower sleep quality.”