According to the latest Small Bites survey, eighty-three percent of respondents believe a lack of sleep affects their eating habits.
They are certainly not imagining things!
A fair number of research studies have found that sleep deprivation (usually defined as less than five hours of sleep a night) can affect hunger levels and, in some instances, even food choices.
The majority of studies focus on two hormones -- leptin and ghrelin.
Leptin, a hormone produced by fat cells, decreases hunger levels.
Ghrelin performs the opposite function. The higher your ghrelin levels, the hungrier you feel.
When sleep deprivation occurs -- particularly when it happens on a consistent basis -- leptin production decreases and ghrelin product increases.
End result? You are hungrier than normal.
One mystery that has baffled researchers is why sleep deprivation is often linked to a stronger desire for starchy, sweet, high-carbohydrate foods.
The answer appears to be found with orexins, neurotransmitters in the hypothalamus that have been linked to increased cravings.
It is theorized that increased ghrelin production also raises levels of orexins.
It should also be pointed out that sleep deprivation not only gets in the way of performing physical activity, but also makes routine tasks -- like cooking a 15 minute meal -- seem daunting.
Lower physical activity and increase your intake of takeout or fast foods over a consistent amount of time and you can see how sleep and eating habits are closely linked.