Does A Lack Of Sleep Make You Hungry?

does lack of sleep make you hungry

Decrease Food Cravings with Better Sleep

According to recent research conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, not getting enough sleep, spending the night tossing and turning can do more than lead to grogginess, irritability, and a short attention span. It can also alert the hormones that regulate the appetite, thereby increasing a person’s desire to consume more calories, which can lead to weight gain and even obesity.

If you find that you are experiencing an insatiable hunger for high-calorie foods after you get a night of bad sleep, don’t be surprised when you reach for that easy-to-grab bag of chips instead of putting the energy into whipping up something healthy. Your increased desire for those salty chips is actually being prompted by your lack of sleep.

Why Lack of Sleep Leads to Hunger and Food Cravings


The mechanism within the body that controls the feeling of fullness and the desire to eat is impacted by two hormones: leptin and ghrelin.

at cells within the body secrete leptin. This hormone lets the brain know that there is an adequate amount of energy reserves within the body as fat cells that produce it. In other words, leptin tells the brain that the body is full and doesn’t require more energy.

The digestive system secretes ghrelin when the body’s supply of energy is depleted. This hormone tells the brain that a person is low on energy, and therefore indicates that a person is hungry.

Sleep deprivation leads to a drop in leptin levels and increases the production of ghrelin. As a result, you naturally feel hungrier when you are sleep-deprived and crave high-calorie foods.

Food Choices, the Brain, and Lack of Sleep sleep deprivation, weight gain, food cravings, sleep habits

In a recent brain study conduct by the University of California, Berkeley, it was determined that sleep-deprived individuals are more likely to experience an increased desire to eat calorie-laden junk food.

In this study, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to examine alterations in the activity of the brain when people who participated in the study were presented with different types of food after getting the recommended eight hours of sleep and when they slept for significantly less than eight hours. Subjects in the study were exposed to photos of various types of food, including low-calorie, healthy options (including fruits and veggies) and high-calorie, unhealthy options (such as doughnuts and pizza).

This study found that those who were sleep deprived were shown photos of unhealthy foods, the activity of the brain’s frontal lobe (the part that is responsible for making rational decisions) was significantly decreased.

However, the amygdala (the portion of the brain that dictates reward-like behaviors, including the desire to eat unhealthy foods) showed marked increase inactivity. This difference in brain activity explains why those who were suffering from sleep deprivation opted for unhealthy food choices instead of healthier options.


There are a number of ways that you can improve not just the quantity, but also the quality of sleep you are getting every night. Try these strategies and you could see a significant difference in your energy levels, your mood, and your waistline.

  • Try a sleep mask. For some people, even the slightest amount of light infiltration can make it difficult to fall asleep. If you find that even the smallest glow from a hall light (even if your bedroom door is shut), a light from something charging, or your alarm clock is making it hard to fall asleep, a sleep mask could be the solution you need. A high-quality sleep mask can effectively block out all sources of light pollution—even the most subtle sources—thereby making it easier for you to fall into a deeper state of sleep, and much more quickly.
  • Turn off the electronics. It’s hard to resist electronics when you are trying to wind down. Catching up on all of the shows or scrolling through your social media profiles might seem relaxing, but those electronic devices actually over-stimulate the brain. When your brain is over-stimulated, falling asleep can be virtually impossible. Shut off those devices at least an hour before bed and you could see a marked improvement in your sleep.
  • Establish a bedtime routine. It’s recommended that the average adult get eight hours of sleep a night. When you’re trying to squeeze in “you time” after the kids go to bed or after a long day at the office, it’s easy to cut sleep. Set an alarm for at least eight hours before you have to wake up the next morning—and don’t dismiss it! Staying up to watch the next episode of your favorite show or to tend to that last chore might seem worth the lack of sleep, but sleep deprivation could end up packing on the pounds.


Sleep deprivation can greatly increase food cravings, thus causing you to gain weight. Try some of these solutions out and sleep for better health!


Caitlin is a bookworm, photographer and dancer. She is also a medical student in love with science and nutrition. When she is not trying to find the meaning of life and Universe, Caitlin is researching and writing about various health-related topics. She is happily addicted to art in all its forms, grilled tofu and caffeine.
Caitlin Evans
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Does A Lack Of Sleep Make You Hungry?