Home » Sleep & Nutrition Part 1: Sleeping to Improve Nutrition

Sleep & Nutrition Part 1: Sleeping to Improve Nutrition

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Sleep & Nutrition Part 1: Sleeping to Improve Nutrition

By: Jessica Roy, MS, RD, LDN, Registered Dietitian & Nutrition Counselor and Lucy Bergeron, Nutrition Intern

If you’ve ever gone to bed too late and forced yourself out of bed the next morning, you know that missing sleep has serious consequences for your mood and productivity, even after just one restless night. There’s no doubt; good sleep is crucial for good health.

What is good sleep? This varies from person to person, but most of us need 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night, with adequate time spent in each phase of the sleep cycle. We often think of sleep and nutrition separately, but actually the quality of our sleep impacts the quality of our food choices the next day, and how that food is metabolized. The hormones leptin and ghrelin, which regulate hunger and appetite, are easily disrupted1 by poor sleep. Studies have found that inadequate sleep is associated with increased risk of obesity2 and correlates to greater waist circumference3, which can be an indicator of cardiovascular issues and other health problems.

People getting insufficient sleep are more likely to increase their food consumption without an equivalent increase in energy expenditure, which may explain the tie between sleep loss and obesity. In fact, sleep deprived people eat about 400 more calories4 per day compared to those who sleep well. On top of that, when compared to their well rested counterparts, people with poor sleep are more likely to choose calorie dense5 foods, which often means highly processed, refined carbohydrate foods of low nutritional value. Brain imaging studies have found that the reward seeking areas of the brain are stimulated6 after insufficient sleep, which might be leading to this heightened desire for sugary foods and the diminished ability to regulate food cravings.

Although processed foods and high waist circumference can be cause for concern, there is nothing inherently wrong with either and they very well might not spell out doom for our health. That said, further research has found that inadequate sleep can lead to lower muscle mass7 and increased visceral fat, which indicates an unhealthy shift in body composition, suggesting the weight gain is problematic. Sleep is an important time for the body to repair and maintain muscle tissue while burning fat for energy, and losing sleep will interrupt this process.

A single night of sleep deprivation can lead to a decrease8 in insulin sensitivity the next day. Overtime this will have consequences for metabolism and increase the risk of diabetes. Other hormones are also disregulated by poor sleep, including cortisol9, commonly known as the stress hormone. This not only impacts our mood, but also our health. High levels of cortisol long term will impact metabolism and inflammation, increasing the risk of developing chronic illness.

Bottom line, if you are hoping to improve your nutrition habits, an adequate night’s rest will help. Reach out to nutrition@waverleyoaks.com for support with sleeping your way to happy and healthy eating!


  1. Taheri, S., Lin, L., Austin, D., Young, T., & Mignot, E. (2004). Short sleep duration is associated with reduced leptin, elevated ghrelin, and increased body mass index. PLoS medicine, 1(3), e62. From https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC535701/
  2. Wu Y, Zhai L, Zhang D. (2014). Sleep duration and obesity among adults: a meta-analysis of prospective studies. Sleep Med, 15(12):1456-62. From https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25450058/
  3. Sperry SD, Scully ID, Gramzow RH, et al. (2015). Sleep Duration and Waist Circumference in Adults: A Meta-Analysis. Sleep, 38(8):1269-76. From https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25581918/
  4. Al Khatib, H., Harding, S., Darzi, J. et al. (2017). The effects of partial sleep deprivation on energy balance: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur J Clin Nutr, 71, 614–624. From https://www.nature.com/articles/ejcn2016201#citeas
  5. Greer SM, Goldstein AN, Walker MP. (2013). The impact of sleep deprivation on food desire in the human brain. Nat Commun, 4:22-59. From https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23922121/
  6. Ruri Katsunuma, MRes, Kentaro Oba, et al. (2017). Unrecognized Sleep Loss Accumulated in Daily Life Can Promote Brain Hyperreactivity to Food Cue, Sleep, 40(10). From https://academic.oup.com/sleep/article/40/10/zsx137/4085848
  7. Nedeltcheva AV, Kilkus JM, Imperial J, Schoeller DA, Penev PD. (2010). Insufficient sleep undermines dietary efforts to reduce adiposity. Ann Intern Med, 153(7):435-41. From https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20921542/
  8. Mesarwi, O., Polak, J., Jun, J., & Polotsky, V. Y. (2013). Sleep disorders and the development of insulin resistance and obesity. Endocrinology and metabolism clinics of North America, 42(3), 617–634. From https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3767932/
  9. Leproult R, Copinschi G, Buxton O, et al. (1997). Sleep loss results in an elevation of cortisol levels the next evening. Sleep, 20(10):865-70. From https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9415946/