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Patti Milligan

Have you ever noticed that the more tired you are, the more you crave foods high in sugar? It’s as if, as your focus wanes, all you can focus on is food. Sleep deprivation is a major performance issue for many of our clients. Recently, a study reported that people who get less than seven hours of sleep per night ate 29% more calories (an average increase of 500 more calories) the following day. 

By understanding why this happens, we can gain some great insights. There are two main gut hormones, which play a key role in appetite control. Ghrelin signals the brain when it should eat, while Leptin signals the brain that you’re full. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that sleep deprivation alters the levels of these hormones. When you do not get enough sleep, Ghrelin production is increased and Leptin production is decreased. The impact of this is an increased calorie intake, an increase in the types of foods chosen (high calorie/high simple carbohydrate foods), and a reduced metabolic rate.

Similarly, sleep deprivation prevents neurons in your brain from secreting the normal amount of the ‘feel good’ chemicals, dopamine and serotonin. This further sets up cravings for high sugar/high calorie foods such as cake, candy, ice cream, pasta, and bread.

At the same time, sleep deprivation can slow your metabolism by 10-15 percent and raise levels of the stress hormone cortisol by 10-20 percent. This not only encourages your body to break down muscle tissue and store more fat, it also disrupts your autonomic nervous system balance. This further impacts brain performance and ultimately your Mindset.

So how can you prevent this viscous cycle? Here are a few quick suggestions:

.01 Try to get at least 7.5 hours of sleep on most nights.

.02 If your sleep quantity is reduced, try taking a short power nap during the day.

.03 Plan and bring your own high performance snacks so you won’t reach for high sugar snacks reflexively.

.04 If you are tired, try getting some simple movement in, such as walking, to awaken your brain and rebalance your autonomic nervous system.

Simply put, more and more data shows that you can’t simply cut back on sleep without impacting your Sustainable High Performance.  As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how sleep impacts your energy, cravings, and performance.

By Patti Milligan
Director of Nutrition