We all have those nights — or even weeks — when getting enough or quality sleep seems nearly impossible.
A checklist of to-dos, stress, and worry can all lead to sleep problems, including how much shut-eye we get and how deep we sleep.
Or, if you’re a night-owl, shutting down and unwinding in the evening can be difficult for you to do consistently. The thing is, sleep is so important to a healthy lifestyle, and while it may seem really simple, it’s often overlooked.
Our health is so interconnected and to be able to eat well and move often, quality zzz’s are important. When you sleep well, you’re more likely to make better choices throughout your day, and when you do that, you can be more present, productive, and attentive in everything you need to conquer in your day.
But when you don’t get enough sleep, it can influence your food choices.
Research has shown that poor sleep quality leads to increased cravings for junk food, overeating throughout the day, and not eating as many fruits and veggies. For example, one mineral found abundantly in fruits and veggies is magnesium, and magnesium plays a vital role in our sleep quality. A deficiency in this essential nutrient enhances stress and inflammation, which may also be linked to reductions in sleep duration and quality (4)
If you’re trying to eat better or maintain your habit of eating well, you can see how a bad night’s sleep can put you off track, right from the moment you wake up.
I’m going to share how not sleeping enough impacts your food choices, tips for getting more sleep, and how you can prepare in advance for the nights you don’t get enough rest so you can make sure you still eat healthfully and feel your best — because it happens.
3 Ways Not Sleeping Enough Can Influence Your Food Choices
First, it’s important for you to know how sleep problems can influence your food choices so you can better understand why this is an important area for you to really focus on.
1. Not Getting Enough Sleep Can Lead To Cravings
According to one study from the University of Arizona, researchers linked poor sleep quality to wanting more junk food (1). In fact, two-thirds of the participants said a lack of sleep led them to reach for unhealthier foods. What makes it more important, is that the researchers actually then linked those junk-food cravings to a higher risk of obesity, diabetes, and other health problems.
Instead of reaching to calorie-laden chips or packaged cookies when you’re tired, reach for these snack recipes.
2. Sleep Problems Can Cause You to Overeat
In addition to more junk food cravings, a lack of sleep could also cause you to snack more in general, therefore leading to a higher calorie intake the next day (2). This could be problematic if you’re looking to lose weight by cutting down on calories.
Try eating meals that are packed with protein and fat when you’re tired, so you have more sustained energy throughout the day. A macro bowl will fit the bill—here’s how to make them.
3. Sleep Problems Could Mean You Eat Less Produce
Though this study was done on young adolescents, it’s still important for all people to hear: Researchers found that boys and girls who slept fewer hours also ate fewer fruits and vegetables (3). On the flip side, the lack of zzz’s meant an increased consumption of meat in boys and soft drinks in girls. The boys with shorter shut-eye also ate at irregular hours and tended to overeat (though they didn’t find this to be true in girls).
If you need more vegetables in your day, salads are always a good choice.
Identify What’s Causing You to Have Trouble Sleeping
First, I want you to look into why you didn’t get enough sleep. How often are you experiencing a poor night’s sleep? Is it one or two nights that your schedule has to be different? Does it happen on nights when you have to work late or nights before a big presentation at work?
If it’s consistent, the best thing you can do is set a regular sleep schedule — going to bed at the same time and getting up at the same time — every week. Not only will that help you fall asleep and wake up easier overtime, but science shows this helps to regulate your circadian rhythm which will help you get a deeper rest.
If you only experience some nights with less sleep than usual, maybe once or twice a week or month, then you need to explore what is triggering those nights and how you can navigate both reducing those triggers and also preparing yourself for the days after it does happen.
Once you know when exactly you experience nights without the best sleep, there are a few steps to take to prevent it from happening and to support yourself when it does.
Tips for Sleeping Better
1. Have a Consistent Nighttime Routine
Routines are so important for our wellbeing. They help guide our body and its natural rhythms. Your nighttime routine will signal your body to start unwinding and relaxing before you even get into bed.
I find that when I set a regular sleep schedule—going to bed at the same time and getting up at the same time—every week, it helps me fall asleep faster and get more quality zzz’s. Science backs up the idea that you should stick to the same bedtime and wake-up time to regulate your circadian rhythm and get some deep rest (4).
Creating an evening routine, whether it’s what you do every night or if you create a special evening routine for nights you’re feeling stressed, will help you prevent it from happening or make it less severe.
2. Make Your Bedroom a Relaxing Sleep Sanctuary
If you have trouble falling asleep every night, try making your bedroom a relaxing sleep sanctuary. Dim the lights, leave the TV (and your phone!) off, and diffuse some essential oils that give off a calming scent, like lavender.
I also am a big believer that a few investment pieces can make a major difference in your daily life.
One of those pieces I cannot recommend enough is having a high-quality, natural mattress. A few years ago, I was struggling with my sleep as well, and I swapped out my mattress for an Avocado Green Mattress! I didn’t realize how much my mattress impacted my sleep, but as soon as I invested in a new one, it made a noticeable difference.
Not only is this mattress super comfy, but it’s also all-natural and made with green materials. I’m a big researcher and Avocado Mattress had the most transparent and detailed information about their materials, sourcing, and environmental impact, and it aligned so well with what I value and was looking for. I’m all about brands that have missions to support your healthy lifestyle and that are better for the planet.
3. Journal Out Any Stressors That Are Lingering In Your Mind
If there’s a stressor triggering your sleepless nights, I find it’s helpful to journal out what’s on my mind — whether it’s something serious or just a lot of to-do’s — before going to bed.
A way that I can process some of those thoughts or ideas and look back on them the next day if I need to, but don’t have to dwell on it before bed or while I’m trying to fall asleep.
How to Create a Plan for the Days After a Bad Night of Sleep
Even when you try to prevent it, there’s going to be times when it happens, so be prepared for that situation will help you to better care for yourself during those times.
When this happens, the first thing to do is bring awareness to the fact that you didn’t sleep well so that you know you have to follow through on the backup plan you create.
1. Have a Check-In with Yourself First Thing In the Morning
Every morning, I start my day with a 2Q daily practice which helps me tune into what I’m feeling at the moment and think about how I want to feel that day. If you don’t have it already, grab my guide for creating healthy habits where I walk you through what the 2Q daily practice is and how you can use it in your life.
Having this check-in first thing in the morning will allow you to bring attention to the nights you didn’t sleep well.
This awareness will help you make more intentional decisions throughout the day, rather than mindlessly making choices because you’re groggy and exhausted and running on auto-pilot.
2. Have an Idea for an Energizing Breakfast
After you don’t sleep well and you’ve brought attention to it, start to bring yourself back into alignment by having an energizing breakfast.
I have a ton of recipes on nutritionstripped.com, but two that I would recommend would be a green smoothie – it’s easy and you can keep most of the ingredients stocked in the freezer so they’re always on hand for when this happens.
My second recommendation would be a Matcha Tea Latte that you can have alongside any other type of breakfast you enjoy, whether that’s eggs or oatmeal. Matcha is literally energizing because it contains some caffeine, but for some people, it has gentler effects compared to coffee.
2. Practice Gentle Movement
Next, have a plan to move your body. If you didn’t sleep well, you likely skipped your regular exercise routine or will be skipping it that evening. But instead of skipping movement altogether, have a low-intensity movement you can do like yoga or walking for 20 minutes.
Not only does exercise give us endorphins and a little boost in energy, but it can also make it easier to fall asleep.
3. Have a Convenient, Nutrient-Dense Meal on Hand
The third thing is to have a convenient nutrient-dense meal on-hand. When you get a lack of sleep, it may be difficult for you to want to come home after a long day and cook an entire meal.
Instead, have an idea or two for recipes that take you 15 minutes to make and something that you’d always have the ingredients on hand for. This might be pasta with sauce and frozen veggies (or any leftover veggies you have that week) or maybe it’s a quick sheet pan recipe where you can pick a protein and a bunch of veggies and quickly toss them into the oven.
But the idea is to have that meal planned ahead for when these days happen so you can ensure you’re nourishing yourself well.
It’s OK to snack and reach for foods that make you feel good after not sleeping well, even if that means they’re sugar-filled or calorie-laden. You just want to make sure you’re conscious of your choices and you’re also nourishing your body to help it regain its energy, mentally and physically.
Simply being aware of the fact that sleep can lead to poor food choices might help you second guess reaching for fried foods or bigger portions. Drinking more water and staying hydrated will also help curb hunger that could lead to reaching for extra snacks and not-so-nourishing foods.
Of course, there’s always room for indulgences and foods you love, just consider why you’re reaching for sweets or continuously munching to help you figure out if you’re actually hungry or just eating to try to boost energy. It will actually be more beneficial if you opt for nutrient-rich and filling foods for a pick-me-up, rather than things like tons of coffee (which could lead to a crash) or potato chips.
Put This Into Practice
So now, it’s time for you to put this into practice in your life. Can you map out your ideal nighttime routine and a plan of action for yourself on the nights you might not get enough sleep so you’re prepared in advance?
- University of Arizona Health Sciences. (2018, June.) Sleep loss linked to nighttime snacking, junk food cravings, obesity, diabetes.
- Jean-PhilippeChaput. (2014, July.) Sleep patterns, diet quality and energy balance.
Fabiloga Tatone-Takuda, Lise Dubois, Timothy Ramsay, Manon Girard, Evelyne Touchette, Dominique Petit, Jacques Y. Montplaisir. (2011, December). Sex differences in the association between sleep duration, diet and body mass index: a birth cohort study.
Jiunn-Horng Kang and Shih-Ching Chen. (2009, July.) Effects of an irregular bedtime schedule on sleep quality, daytime sleepiness, and fatigue among university students in Taiwan.