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The Sleep Gremlin

We’ve ALL been there. You toss and turn through a horrible night of sleep, and the next day, you want to eat EVERYTHING in sight. And when you do, you never actually feel full or satisfied.


Did you know that inadequate sleep is one of the top reasons humans struggle with cravings? Stay with me, because this is an area that can make an immediate impact on your nutrition.


Various studies show between 1/3 and 1/2 of adults don’t get enough sleep. Your sleep (or lack thereof) affects two hormones that play a significant role in your appetite AND metabolism, leptin and ghrelin.


Leptin tells your body when you’re full and when to create energy (i.e., burn calories) to fuel your activities. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body doesn’t produce enough leptin. Lack of leptin makes your brain think you don’t have enough energy, sending signals to eat AND store the calories as a backup for the energy shortage.


Ghrelin (which I commonly refer to as “The Gremlin”) is the antithesis of leptin. Ghrelin levels RISE when you don’t get enough sleep, causing your brain to say, "FEED ME. Like, now."


Bottom line? A dip in leptin and a rise in ghrelin boosts hunger AND slows down your metabolism. You can imagine what this does to cravings and subsequent weight gain.


Believe it or not, this leptin/ghrelin process could date back thousands of years, when our ancestors needed to survive long, cold winters. During the short summer nights, it allowed their bodies to preserve energy. During the long winter nights, those calories were burned off as needed fuel.


For modern-day you and me, this means getting enough regular, quality sleep (7-9 hours a night), is critical.


Tracking your sleep is a great idea. A sleep-tracker like the ones on many fitness devices (I use AutoSleep for my Apple Watch) will let you know both how much you’re sleeping as well as the quality of sleep (light, deep, restless, etc.).


Knowing WHY you have cravings will help put them in their place. You can take action to minimize them by:

  • Eating protein, the most satiating nutrient, at EVERY meal.

  • Drinking at least half your body weight in ounces of water every day.

  • Going to bed early, if at all possible!

Ready to give it a try? Let me know how it goes!


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