Do you feel like you’re constantly in a losing battle with your appetite? And by appetite, I mean your overwhelming urge to scarf down any combo of salt-sugar-carb-fat comfort food. (You may have noticed that you don’t suffer from a need to eat kale whenever you see it.)
Well, then: How have you been sleeping?
If that seems like an odd question, it shouldn’t. You know that sleep is an integral part of wellness (hey, it’s in the 5 Facets, right?). Sleep deprivation has been shown to decrease your awareness of satiety (feeling full), as well as increase your desire for high-calorie food.
Another study wanted to know why a lack of sleep makes us want to eat unhealthy foods. The researchers showed that being deprived of sleep actually changes your taste function, making sweet tastes more preferable and palatable.
Here’s Shawn Stevenson’s description of this disheartening process from his book Sleep Smarter:
“When you’re sleep deprived, you are unknowingly setting up a steel cage match between your willpower and your biology. Sure, you might be committed to eating healthier, exercising more, or even choosing better relationships. But when your prefrontal cortex starts to shut down, if you’ve ever had d potato chip, if you’ve ever had a sugary cereal, if you’ve ever had ice cream, your brain knows that it can find a quick source of glucose in those things and shuttle it back to where it is needed. Your willpower is now in a judo-style armbar as your entire body will compel you to seek those foods out.”
Most estimates say that at least a third of Americans are walking around at least mildly sleep deprived. One in four suffer from insomnia and in 25% of those it becomes chronic.
Now how do you feel about caving-in to that four o’clock office candy bowl instead of dipping into your bag of almonds?
How to get more sleep
This is probably the most important tip. If you don’t think that sleep is important, what’s the point? If getting enough sleep to keep your appetite in check isn’t impetus enough for you, know that it has plenty, plenty of other beneficial effects for your brain. And you’re going to need that…
Get sunlight during the day
You evolved outside and you still perform best when you get adequate sunlight. What does this mean? Get outside when you can. Leave your sunglasses off when you can (please don’t look directly at the sun!). Even sitting by a sunny window can help.
But avoid bright light at night
For at least an hour before bed, dim the lights. If you watch television or any other blue-light emitting device, use a filter to dim it or to change the light to a warmer tone, such as red, amber, or yellow.
Go to bed early for a week
It’s an experiment! See if you fall asleep any easier and if you feel any better the following day.
Or get up an hour later
Depending on your schedule—and your sleep preference—try this experiment instead. You’re looking to see not only if you need more sleep, but when it’s preferable for you to do it.
These are easy suggestions, but don’t let their simplicity fool you. They can have big effects. At the least, it’s empowering to realize that having junk and comfort food cravings doesn’t mean that you’re weak-willed or indulgent. It could just mean that you need to get a bit more shut-eye.