Put Sugar Cravings to Bed

Your sweet tooth can be brought on for any number of reasons unrelated to diet. Understanding those factors can help you find a more balanced relationship with food and curb your need for sugar. Today, let’s talk about one of the prime suspects that increases those urges to dive into donuts.


Seriously. If you’re a person with sugar cravings, try going to bed. Studies show that people who get less than 5 hours of sleep are 50% more likely to be obese compared to those who get a whole 8 hours. And it’s not because of your sleep deprived lack of willpower and crankiness. It’s chemical. Sleep, or lack thereof, affects the hormones responsible for hunger, satiety and energy storage. One study showed that just the sight of junk foods like pizza and candy activated the reward centers in the brains of sleep deprived participants. However, this effect was not observed in participants that were well rested.

You have 3 main hormones responsible for hunger, satiety, and storage of fuel. Your sleep (both quantity and quality) plays a role in the regulation of all of them. Here’s how it all goes down at a biochemical level.

Sleep deprivation (less than 5 hours) results in a plummeting of leptin - the hormone responsible for for letting your brain know that you are full and satisfied. So no sleep = less leptin = not knowing when to put your fork down = more eating.

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To add insult to injury, less ZZs also results in skyrocketing ghrelin levels. Ghrelin is the hormone in charge of telling your brain that you are hungry. Just one night of messed up sleep can make your ghrelin levels go crazy. So your hunger and appetite are now both whacked out with high amounts of ghrelin and low amounts of leptin. No sleep = you’re always hungry and you’re never satisified. It’s a bummer.

Lastly, loss of sleep affects your insulin levels. Insulin is the primary hormone involved in the storage of glucose as fat. When you don’t sleep, insulin levels rise, increasing fat storage but also resulting in burning sugar instead of fat. So in turn, your cravings for sugar/carbs increase.

Oh. There’s one other key player here that we mustn’t forget. Cortisol is the stress hormone and again, just one night of sleep can cause it to rise. Cortisol increases your fight or flight response mechanism, increasing both your insulin and leptin levels, thus increasing your cravings. Can you say double whammy?

The whole thing is a vicious cycle. There’s delicate balance that we can’t ignore here and sleep is essential not just for regulating sugar cravings, but also in maintenance of your gut health and overall wellness. A 2016 study showed that loss of sleep depletes microbiome diversity. Researchers found that in healthy young adults, after just 2 consecutive nights of less than 5 hours of sleep, certain strains of beneficial bacteria were reduced by 50%, resulting in a microbiome that resembled that of an obese client. On top of that, their cells became 20% less sensitive to insulin...making it harder for their cells to manage blood glucose.

The more we find out about microbiome, the more we learn just how integral this organ (yes, it’s considered an organ now) is to our health. It plays a hand in pretty much every function of the body, so maintaining a healthy one is key for brain cognition, mood, hormonal health, GI health, cell metabolism, the list goes on.

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What can we do? Hate to break it to you but weekend catch ups and afternoon naps aren’t gonna cut it. Healthy sleep behavior starts with going to bed and waking up at consistent times. Our bodies, including our microbiome and metabolic hormones, are programmed to follow a predictable schedule of sleep, wakefulness and eating. Going off the schedule will turn your body into an angry toddler. As any toddler parent would say, whatever it is, it’s never worth missing nap time! As adults, disrupting your sleep schedule or consistently not getting enough sleep means that in one way or another, your body will turn against you and you’ll hit a hard stop (I won’t rule out meltdowns in the middle of the street here). So, try establishing a healthy bedtime routine and sticking to it. It doesn’t have to be perfect every single time but consistency is key. No amount of staying up to watch TV or whatever it is that you’re doing is worth your long term health and sense of well being.

Establish a bedtime routine.

  1. Set a schedule and try to be as consistent as possible (within 30 minutes of both going to sleep and waking).

  2. Limit blue light in the bedroom. Admittedly, this one is something I’m working on. Place it away from your bed with a do not disturb setting. Try reading a book or kindle without the blue light. You can even get the blue light blocking glasses from Amazon.

  3. Try a relaxation technique like a breathing exercise. I like this one.

  4. Lastly, avoid snacking before bed. According to most people’s circadian rhythms, 8pm is prime craving hour, however, if you can push through to 10, these cravings subside quickly. Time your meals accordingly to be satiated at 8 pm in order to reduce your mindless snacking urges.





The Wellthy Plate