We all know that lack of sleep or poor sleep quality can leave us feeling cranky, stressed and lethargic. Tiredness, stress, and exhaustion can often lead us to reach for a snack in order to get an energy boost, when really our bodies are letting us know that we need a rest or some down-time. We often push past the signals to rest, but this can lead to problems when it comes to eating, especially if we are prone to emotional eating.
A fairly recent study (1) looked directly at how emotional eating, stress and sleep interact. The researchers found that emotional eating scores were significantly higher in women who reported poor sleep quality. They also found that food consumption was elevated in women (who were emotional eaters) who were stressed and who reported short sleep. The scientists write “The results suggest that the relationship between short sleep and elevated food consumption exists in those who are prone to emotional eating”. In another study (2) significant associations were found between binge eating and sleep problems such as: not getting enough sleep, sleeping poorly, problems falling asleep, feeling sleepy during work or free time, and disturbed sleep.
Researchers suggest that the interaction between sleep and emotional or binge eating is likely to be due to complex psychological, biological, neuroendocrine, and metabolic factors. Sleep impacts the hormones that regulate our appetite and not enough sleep can also impact insulin, which has all kinds of effects on the body, blood sugar, and food cravings. Short sleep can also mean higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn impacts insulin, setting up a vicious cycle in the body that often leaves us turning to food.
Evidence seems to suggest we need to get between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. If we are well rested, we naturally tend to feel better mentally and that means we are more able to choose healthy lifestyle behaviours, compared to when we are sleep deprived and stressed. For me personally I know that when I don’t get enough high-quality sleep my stress levels escalate and my coping strategies diminish. During these times, I know I need to reassess and make sleep a self-care priority.
Next time you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious or upset have a look at your sleeping patterns. Do you need to change your routine so that you get an extra half hour of sleep? Perhaps you can make time in the evening to journal- this can help prevent the events of the day going around and around in your head at night time. Are you using technology until late at night? Perhaps you could turn off your phone/email/Facebook at least an hour before you get into bed? Or take time to read a relaxing book rather than watching an action movie before sleep. Commit to caring for yourself through better sleep.
If you struggle with emotional eating you might be interested in reading my newly published book:Love or Diet: Nurture yourself and release the need to be comforted by food. Or have a look at my low cost e-dates package. It’s a great starting point to exploring your emotional eating.
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