How to Make Better Food Choices When You're Sleep Deprived (And Why It Matters)
Lack of shut-eye is more than just frustrating — it may also affect your diet. A new study focused on women participants suggests that poor sleep quality is associated with poor diet choices, such as consuming more added sugars and more overall calories.
Sleep is an important component of weight loss and overall health, but it’s not always possible to get the recommended seven or more hours we need per night. So how can you avoid the trap of unhealthy eating when you’re sleep-deprived? Try these dietitian-approved tips.
1. Plan Ahead for Breakfast
Lack of sleep means you’ll most likely be battling unhealthy food cravings right off the bat, according to Melissa Perry, a registered dietitian at Orlando Health UF Health Cancer Center.
Of course, most of us don’t bank on getting a bad night’s sleep. That’s why it helps to make breakfast meal prep a habit — so you always have healthy breakfast options on hand, no matter what challenges the morning brings. “You’re more likely to eat healthy foods if you have them readily available,” Perry says.
A few quick-but-healthy breakfast options include:
- A cup of Greek yogurt with fresh blueberries
- A slice of whole wheat bread with a hard-boiled egg
- An apple with a spoonful of peanut butter
2. Pack Healthy Snacks
After a rough night’s sleep, the mid-afternoon slump can hit hard. So while you’re in meal prep mode, pack some healthy snacks for work so you’re not at the mercy of the vending machine when that happens.
For healthy snacks on the go, Perry recommends:
- Carrot sticks with pre-measured individual servings of hummus
- Dried fruit with mixed nuts
- String cheese with whole wheat crackers
3. Add Fiber to Your Meals
“Increased intake of fiber can aid in promoting satiety and help prevent you from overeating,” Perry says. High-fiber foods are typically more filling than low-fiber foods, and because fiber is slow to digest, you’ll feel fuller longer.
After a night of poor sleep, some easy options for adding fiber to your diet include oatmeal with fresh berries for breakfast, a banana with lunch, and a side of broccoli or Brussels sprouts at dinner.
4. Get Some Exercise
When you’re short on sleep, you may be tempted to skip your workout. But exercise can be a healthy way to distract yourself from cravings, helping you distance yourself — both physically and mentally — from your stash of unhealthy snacks.
“Try going on a walk or bicycle ride the next time you’re craving a sugary, fatty food to give yourself a change in environment and thought,” Perry says. Exercising may also motivate you to make healthier food choices, she adds.
Bonus: In the long term, research suggests getting regular exercise may also help you sleep better.
5. Drink Plenty of Water
When cravings hit, down a glass of water before reaching for food. “Sometimes we confuse our thirst with hunger,” Perry says. And research suggests drinking water before a meal may lead to reduced calorie intake and may contribute to weight loss. To make plain ol’ H20 more enticing, try a fruit-infused water recipe, or add a squeeze of fresh lemon, orange, or lime.
- Measures of Poor Sleep Quality Are Associated With Higher Energy Intake and Poor Diet Quality in a Diverse Sample of Women From the Go Red for Women Strategically Focused Research Network www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/JAHA.119.014587
- How Much Sleep Do I Need? www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.html
- Increased Hunger, Food Cravings, Food Reward, and Portion Size Selection after Sleep Curtailment in Women Without Obesity www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6470707/
- Increased impulsivity in response to food cues after sleep loss in healthy young men www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4314688/
- Unravelling the Effects of Soluble Dietary Fibre Supplementation on Energy Intake and Perceived Satiety in Healthy Adults: Evidence from Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomised-Controlled Trials www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6352252/
- Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fiber/art-20043983
- The bidirectional relationship between exercise and sleep: Implications for exercise adherence and sleep improvement www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4341978/
- Effect of Pre-meal Water Consumption on Energy Intake and Satiety in Non-obese Young Adults www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6209729/
- Efficacy of water preloading before main meals as a strategy for weight loss in primary care patients with obesity: RCT onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/oby.21167