It’s common knowledge that both good sleep and a healthy diet are essential for overall health. However, what is often overlooked is that there is an important relationship between sleep and nutrition.
A large part of this relationship is the link between sleep and overeating. Insomnia can affect appetite and food choices, increasing the likelihood of both overeating and consuming unhealthy foods. Overeating can also affect sleep. Eating too much can worsen sleep, especially when it includes heavy or spicy foods, by interfering with digestion and increasing the risk of heartburn. Research studies have found that insufficient sleep increases overeating and unhealthy food choices. Not surprisingly, research has linked insufficient sleep to weight gain and a higher risk of obesity (Wu et al., 2014).
Disruptions in normal hormone production are the driving factor behind sleep deprivation that leads to overeating. It plays a role in regulating hormone levels, including the hormones leptin and ghrelin, which are an integral part of sleep, hunger and appetite (Kim et al., 2015). Ghrelin is closely related to hunger, while leptin is linked to feeling full. Insomnia has been found to trigger increased levels of ghrelin and decreased levels of leptin (Speigel et al., 2004), resulting in increased hunger and appetite. This is especially true for increased wakefulness. It makes overeating more likely as it increases eating opportunities (St-Onge, 2017).
Insufficient sleep also affects parts of the brain that determine how we think about food. effects (St-Onge, 2017). Studies of people with limited sleep have found that activity in brain areas associated with seeing food as a positive reward increases, making us more vulnerable to overeating. Another study found an increased appetite for high-calorie foods in people who don’t get enough sleep (Greer, 2013). Similar results were found in young children (Mullins et al., 2017) and adolescents (Weiss et al., 2010), suggesting that poor sleep may be a contributing factor to increased rates of childhood obesity.
Binge eating habits can cause weight gain, which increases the risk of obstructive sleep apnea, a breathing disorder that causes constant sleep interruptions. Overeating, especially at night, can disrupt sleep. As a result, a vicious cycle can occur, in which poor sleep triggers overeating and may play a role in worsening sleep. Overeating can interfere with normal sleep. After a big meal, the body needs to dedicate its energy to the digestion process, which usually takes several hours. But digestion often slows down during sleep, conflicting your body’s normal sleep process with the stomach’s need for digestion. This may explain why studies have found increased sleep disturbances after eating near bedtime (Dantas et al., 2002).
Studies have found an association between eating higher amounts of calories and fat and a reduced amount of sleep (Grandner et al., 2010). The effects of overeating on sleep may be exacerbated by excessive intake of certain types of food. For example, low-fiber and high-sugar and saturated fat meals have been associated with interrupted sleep (St-Onge et al., 2016).
Overeating can cause discomfort that can interfere with sleep. In addition to making you feel very full, large meals can trigger and exacerbate acid reflux; this resulting heartburn can make it difficult to get quality sleep (Vela, et al., 2014). Heartburn may be even more likely if overeating includes certain foods that can cause indigestion, such as spicy foods, fatty foods, and chocolate (Nisar et al., 2019). Large meals with certain foods can also disrupt sleep by increasing body temperature, which goes against the body’s typical cooling process during sleep (Edwards et al., 1992).
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