Why Dietitians Care About Your Sleep

Photo by   Brooke Lark

Photo by Brooke Lark

Disclosure: This post was sponsored in part by Lolë Jasper, however all opinions expressed are my own and based on current scientific evidence. 

Sleep affects nutrition, and overall health and wellness more than we think it does, or at least more than we give it credit for. Those cozy hours in bed help dictate our food choices because of their effect on hunger and fullness hormones, their influence on mood and our inherent motivation for health-supporting behaviours, and because sleep is a key element of self-care, a pre-requisite for a healthy relationship with food and our bodies. 


Appetite & Metabolism

While you’re sleeping your body processes hormones involved in the regulation of appetite (hunger and fullness) and metabolism (energy use). When you don’t get enough sleep, your body makes more Ghrelin, a hormone that triggers hunger and the desire to eat more, and less Leptin, a hormone that stimulates satiety (the feeling of fullness) and increases metabolism. The end result? Sleep deprivation leads to increased appetite and decreased metabolism, a.k.a. risk for overeating.  


Cravings & Motivation

I don’t know about you, but if I don’t sleep well I end up feeling like a sugar junkie with all sorts of energy dips and mood swings, reminiscent of my 90’s childhood and “penny-cent candy day”. This feeling is completely normal and can be explained by biology (thanks, Science). When you’re tired, your body is searching for quick energy – think caffeine and doughnuts. It wants easy calorie-dense foods like fats and refined carbohydrates (sugar). Your body is pretty smart and knows you’re going to be low on energy without adequate rest, so it amps up your cravings for these foods on purpose. To add more gas to the flame, the cells of your body are not adequately rested either and are less efficient at using the energy you’re providing them, signalling your brain to eat more of these foods for fuel!

So, on days when you don’t get enough shut eye, reach for carbohydrate-rich foods at breakfast, but focus on complex carbohydrates like whole grains, pulses, and fruits/vegetables that have more fibre to stabilize your blood sugars. (Oh, and don’t get mad at biology for these sugar cravings. Accept them and take it as a friendly nudge to get more sleep the next day.) 

Photo by   Joseph Gonzalez


If the descriptors emotional or mindless eating resonate with you, pay special attention to this piece. Food can often act as comfort for our emotions or as stress-release at the end of the day. And sometimes that is A-okay! But when food becomes your only way to cope, it can become problematic because it is a short-term feel-good thing. Often guilt and shame are associated with the over use of food as a coping mechanism, and these two emotions tend to make us feel worse in the long run.

Now how does sleep fit into this? First of all, sleep improves your cognition and the ability to think about what would make you feel better, rather than immediately reaching for the ice cream pail. Second, sometimes what you might be feeling in these munchie moments is exhaustion. So, try this next time...Pause and ask yourself “what am I feeling”? Run-down, stressed, bored, hungry, sad, sleepy? If you can’t label it that’s okay – it takes practice to tune in. Next ask “what do I need”? Sleep, a bath, some ‘me-time’, my favourite movie, a good cry? Sometimes it might be a bowl of popcorn. There is no right answer, but the key thing is to get present and check-in.

Think of the desire to use food to cope with emotions as a signal that you need to engage in more self-care practices, and adequate sleep is one important element of self-care. 


How much sleep is enough?

Generally, adults (18-64 years) should aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. Older adults (65+ years) can aim for 7 to 8 hours of Zzzz’s.  How do you know exactly what’s right for you? Make note of how you feel when you wake up. Are you rested?


Stay tuned – next up on the blog are some strategies (including some sleep-promoting foods!) to help you get the sleep you deserve. 


Further reading and special thanks for inspiring this article:

    -Scritchfield, R. (2016). Body Kindness. New York, NY: Workman Publishing Co., Inc. 

    -Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (1995). Intuitive Eating. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press. 

    -National Sleep Foundation

    Photo by   David Mao

    Photo by David Mao

    Disclosure: This post was sponsored in part by Lolë Jasper, however all opinions expressed are my own and based on current scientific evidence.