sleepBy: Mary Perry, Director of Zone Labs Clinical Trials

If you were asked to list some of the consequences of sleep deprivation, you may think decreased productivity, irritability, nodding off while driving, even on the job errors, but what about chronic disease? Many of us are familiar with how lack of sleep can influence our daily routines, but when it comes to our overall health, that’s a different story. Sleep deprivation increases our risk for hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attacks, and stroke (1). With a third of the U.S. population being obese, researchers are continually investigating what drives our food intake and ways to prevent overconsumption.

Sleep deprivation is emerging as a contributor to increased consumption, and a recent study in the Journal of Health Psychology set out to investigate the mechanisms that underlie this relationship (2). Below is a breakdown of the four mechanisms and how they relate to greater food intake.

Homeostasis: The drive to eat increases after sleep deprivation to compensate for the additional hours the body has been awake. This can equate to a 20% increase in calories without the individual perceiving any change in the pleasantness of food or drive to eat (2).

Cognition: With lack of sleep comes a decrease in cognitive function (e.g., executive control, goal-oriented behaviors, impulses, and emotion). This has been linked to less mindfulness around eating and increased intake of high-fat foods and limited intake of fruits and vegetables.

Emotion: Emotional stress and negativity are more prominent with lack of sleep leading individuals to consume foods that are more pleasing and rewarding and associated positive feelings. In addition, the brain’s response to reward is heightened during this time, making high-carbohydrate and high-fat foods more appealing.

Behavioral: Individuals are shown to be more impulsive and show less restraint with lack of sleep. This translates into not being able to curb thoughts and behaviors around food and the “throwing-in-the towel” type approach to eating.

Sleep is something many of us wish we could get more of but how many zzzz’s do you need? The answer varies with age. School-age children need about 10 hours of sleep daily, teens 9-10 hours, and adults 7-8 hours. Unfortunately, most adults are probably clocking in at less than 6 hours per night, which over the long-term can wreak havoc on our waistlines and overall health. A few things that can help on the sleep front are to avoid large meals prior to bed, stick with a consistent rise-and-shine time/bedtime, avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine and minimize screen time (3). If it just doesn’t seem feasible to get more sleep, make sure to rein in your diet. Following an anti-inflammatory eating plan like the Zone Diet will help keep hunger at bay giving you more willpower to avoid high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods.

1. Institute of Medicine. Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2006.
2. Lundahl A, Nelson TD. Sleep and food intake: A multisystem review of mechanisms in children and adults. J Health Psychol. 2015 Jun;20(6):794-805.
3. Insufficient Sleep is a Public Health Epidemic. Available at: Accessed: June 12, 2015.