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Sleep Deprivation and Overeating

I spent a fair number of late nights working on the just-published Normal Eating for Normal Weight, and that inspired the topic of today’s post: sleep deprivation – how it compares to overeating (with an excerpt from the new book), and how it can trigger overeating.

Do you struggle with guilt about eating so-called "forbidden foods"? There is never a reason for guilt or shame about what you eat. Guilt means you feel you’ve done something morally wrong, and there’s no right or wrong when it comes to eating. Not convinced? Consider this (from the chapter on Stage 1):

Eating is an issue of self-care, not moral correctness.

An analogy can make this easier to see. Your body needs sleep as well as nutrition. Do you feel wracked with guilt and shame if you stay up all night? You may feel annoyed with yourself when you’re tired the next day, but you don’t feel guilt and shame. You know that it’s your right to stay up all night if you choose, even if it’s not the best choice for your health.

It’s the same with eating. You have the right to eat whatever you want, whenever you want, and however much you want. You are responsible for your own self-care, but your right to choose what you eat is absolute. There’s nothing to feel guilty about.

So forget about the guilt, and let’s talk about self-care.

Have you ever noticed that when you don’t get enough sleep, you feel like eating all day? You’re not imagining it, and it’s not just an emotional urge. When you haven’t gotten enough sleep, your body prompts you to eat more to keep your energy up.

That’s just one of many good reasons to get adequate sleep. Scientists have found significant measurable impairment in reaction time and reasoning ability when people are short just a few hours of sleep. You function better and cope better when you’re well rested. Plus you need adequate sleep to lose weight. Just as children do their growing while asleep, adults do their shrinking – burning of fat – while asleep. Your body needs that down time for a wide range of metabolic clean-up tasks. You’ll burn off less fat without sleep and you’ll tend to eat more without sleep – so get enough sleep!

Something to Try…

Surveys have shown that a very large percentage of adults routinely fail to get adequate sleep. Are you one of them? If so, try this experiment. For the next week, make sure you allot 8 hours to sleep every night, and keep a log about how you feel during the day. I’ll bet you feel better and function better – and you may end up a few pounds lighter, as well.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them.

This article was first published in the March 2009 newsletter.

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5 comments to Sleep Deprivation and Overeating

  • Anna Anna

    This is so true–I thought I was going crazy: depressed, wanting to just crash on the couch with food and not think. It was all sleep deprivation, and went away after a good amount of extra sleep (not resolvable overnight). Sleep is so important.

  • Here’s something I added to the forum discussion on this article…

    There have been quite a few articles recently about “junk sleep” – comparable to “junk food” – caused by having electronic devices all around you when you go to bed. Junk sleep is Stage 2 sleep, as opposed to deeper Stage 3 and 4 sleep. You don’t dream and it’s not as restful. Here’s an article about it that also mentions the link between sleep deprivation and obesity:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/6962085.stm

  • wonderful – if you stay up all night you don’t feel guilt and shame… thanks, Sheryl…

  • Barbara Barbara

    I have found that I no longer feel guilty about not sleeping the day before “Aunt Flo” comes to visit. I now know it is natural and I give myself a free pass. I get up and do something for myself guilt free.

    I try to keep my bedroom as dark as possible and lights off in all the rooms 1/2 hour before bed. It helps with falling asleep. My big problem is STAYING asleep all night. I toss and turn all night. I wake up fustrated and guilty for not sleeping.

    C3NT

  • Niki Niki

    I have an 8 month old. Definitely sleep deprived while desperate to change my relationship with food so I can raise her with a healthy relationship for food and her own body. I am starting to go to bed really early when she goes to bed so I can catch up on sleep. When I am tired – all I want to do is eat — thinking the food will energize me.

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