Your Sleep Schedule Affects Your Appetite

By now, you may have heard that less sleep is bad for your health. Less sleep can lead to weight gain. And a healthy sleep routine is a critical part of weight loss. But, we are still learning more about sleep changes and how they impact our appetite, weight, and health. 

Is the issue simply less sleep overall? Or is the issue more about timing, like going to bed late, or waking up too early? Knowing the details might help on those nights when you have a tight deadline or an early flight, and you just can’t get enough sleep.

A new study in the journal Nutrients demonstrated that on a night of less sleep (4 hours), when you do get sleep may matter. In three different sleep conditions, the researchers compared hunger, and the appetite hormones ghrelin, and leptin. They also measured the desire for food in young healthy men. The intriguing findings may change the way you approach your mornings.

When the study subjects slept in the later half of the night, their ghrelin – the hunger hormone- was fine. Their ghrelin levels were similar to those after a good night’s sleep. However, when they slept in the first half of the night and woke up very early, their ghrelin levels were high by morning. Which means they were more hungry. And indeed, their desire for food was higher than usual first thing in the morning.

It’s important to note that this study was conducted in healthy young men. The findings may not be the same for older females with obesity, for example. Additionally, the study did not measure actual food intake, which is ultimately what causes weight gain. And the sample size was small.  Therefore, it would be beneficial to repeat the study with a larger and more diverse sample size to verify the results and see if these results translate to weight gain.

For those who frequently wake up early for flights or early work shifts, this study suggests that your hunger pangs in the morning are hormonally driven. And they are probably related to your sleep schedule. The good news is that you can plan for it.

When you have to wake up early, be mindful of your breakfast choices when those hunger pangs arrive. You can also moderate your intake later throughout the rest of day, especially if you have a big meal in the morning. Awareness can help you to make sure morning hunger pangs do not translate to overeating and weight gain.

In conclusion, if you find yourself needing to miss sleep, this study suggests that staying up late might be better for your appetite than waking up early, if you have the choice. However, if waking up early is unavoidable, proper planning for a healthy breakfast when hunger strikes is crucial. And of course, remember that everyone is an individual and ultimately you should listen to your body and learn what works best for you through trial and error. 

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