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Tired and hungry: how lack of sleep hurts your diet

Early morning meetings sometimes mean a doughnut from the coffee cart as you start up the computer, just as a late night out usually translates into a quick stop at the sub shop or pizza parlor. Turns out, these not-so-great food choices are a pretty universal response to lack of sleep.

New research out of New York City’s St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital Center shows a link between a lack of sleep and craving unhealthy foods like sugars, fats and high-carb options.

Doctors surveyed 16 healthy young adults and found brain regions associated with reward and motivation were highly activated when participants hadn’t slept well.

Michael Howell, M.D., a sleep medicine physician and associate professor in the University of Minnesota’s Medical School, isn’t surprised by the results.

“In all spheres of our lives, judgment is impaired when sleep-deprived,” says Howell. “Without enough sleep, you’re less able to avoid temptation.”

There are a lot of other ways a lack of quality sleep can impact our waistlines, according to Howell.

A big part is how sleep impacts our body function, especially in insulin function and glucose levels. Without a solid night’s rest, our bodies begin to function similarly to a diabetic state and blood sugar rises.

Another important factor is how we fill our time while awake.

The quality of movement during the day suffers without enough sleep. Healthy, well-rested bodies can more effectively burn calories as they are more active even in a resting state. Without a solid night of sleep, people aren’t as vigorous or purposeful while moving. That slows everything down and decreases the energy expenditure.

“Another problem is the cultural shift to staying up late. Later bedtimes mean people continue eating later into the day. This adds an average of 300 calories every day, and that packs on 2-3 pounds a month. It all adds up,” says Howell.

Getting the recommended eight or more hours also allows your body to balance hunger impulses and keeps your eating in check.

So the next time you’re wondering why a pizza craving always kicks in after the late nightly news, you’ll know that your appetite is out of balance with your sleep.

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