Many people turn to comfort foods and end up overeating in today's fast-paced society. These behaviors can be linked to long work hours, living with chronically high stress, and being too busy to eat when you're actually hungry. Researchers and medical professionals are concerned by the connections between fatigue and overeating, which has led to decades of research on the subject.
Fatigue can disrupt hormonal balance, increasing hunger and decreasing feelings of fullness.
Sleep deprivation weakens our ability to self-control and make sensible informed decisions, which can make overeating more likely.
Emotional factors, convenience, and social influences also contribute to tiredness-related overeating.
Prioritizing sleep, practicing mindful eating, opting for balanced meals, and managing stress can help break the cycle.
In this article, we'll examine the scientific rationale for why exhaustion can lead to overeating and provide useful strategies to help you feel prepared the next time you're ravenous and tired.
The science behind overeating when you're tired
There have been numerous research studies and investigations that reveal a direct link between lack of sleep, exhaustion, and overeating. Our bodies experience changes in hormonal regulation when we don't get enough sleep, notably with regard to the hormones ghrelin and leptin, which control our hunger and fullness.
The "hunger hormone," ghrelin, rises when we don't get enough sleep, intensifying our feelings of hunger. Leptin, the hormone that conveys fullness and happiness, is also less produced concurrently. Our bodies are physically compelled to seek out more food than we need, which can result in overeating.
Exhaustion and poor decision making
Our capacity for self-control and rational decision-making may decline when we are tired. With decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex, which controls these cognitive processes, sleep deprivation makes it more likely to make dietary decisions that fall outside of our normal patterns. Since our inhibitions are lowered and our brain's reward regions are more open to the immediate gratification supplied by less-healthy delights, we may find ourselves drawn to foods that are high in calories, sugar, and fat.
Factors at play with fatigue and overeating
As well as the hormonal and neurobiological explanations which shed light on the connection between tiredness and overeating, we have to look at the other psychological and environmental factors that influence our eating behaviors when we are tired.
- Emotional eating. High emotions, stress, and mood changes can coexist with fatigue. Although certain foods' ability to comfort us can serve as a momentary diversion from unpleasant emotions, it can lead to a cycle of overeating when we're fatigued.
- Availability and convenience. Making a healthy supper can seem like a daunting undertaking when we are worn out. Because of this, we might choose simple, processed foods that are high in calories. Once in a while these meals are ok, but regularly making these decisions can support poor eating habits and overeating.
- Social influences. Food is frequently involved in social events and conversations. Even though we are not physically hungry, when we are weary and attempting to stay awake or attentive during social occasions, we may utilize food as a means to stay active or connected.
Seeing as our social and psychological environment plays a significant role in whether or not we overeat when we are tired, it's important to learn some coping strategies so you don't get caught out when you're worn out.
Managing the tiredness-overeating connection
Understanding the connection between fatigue and overeating is the first step in properly controlling this condition. Here are several methods for ending the cycle:
- Putting sleep first. Make sure you prioritize sleep to ensure you receive enough rest on a regular basis. For optimal health and to maintain your hormonal balance, aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night.
- Eating mindfully. By being conscious of your bodily and emotional signs for hunger, you can practice mindful eating. Ask yourself if you're actually hungry or just looking for comfort before reaching for a snack.
- Balanced meals. Plan ahead for healthy meals and snacks, then prepare them. When nutritional options are accessible, it is less likely that exhausted people will turn to unhealthy options.
- Stress management. You’ll be less likely to overeat if you find ways to manage the stressors in life that don’t involve food. Some well-researched stress-busting activities include meditation, breath work, yoga, or a hobby that brings you joy and a sense of calmness.
If you find yourself reaching for the cookie jar when you know you are tired, make sure to try the methods outlined in this article to help you create a diet and lifestyle that supports plenty of good quality sleep and adequate nutrition.
Can caffeine or energy drinks counteract the effects of tiredness on overeating?
Caffeine and energy drinks only provide a temporary boost of energy and should never replace the need for a deep and nourishing sleep. Excessive caffeine intake can also lead to a decrease in sleep quality due to the time it takes to clear the substance from your body.
Is it okay to indulge in comfort foods occasionally?
It’s totally okay to have the occasional comfort food blow out, like watching a movie with friends for example. But relying on comfort foods when you’re tired can create unhealthy eating habits. It’s better to seek balance and find other more nourishing ways to address fatigue.
Are there specific foods that can help combat tiredness?
If you want to avoid energy crashes then stay away from sugary snacks that provide a short burst of energy followed by depletion. Go for options like whole grains, lean proteins, low-sugar fruit, and a wide variety of vegetables. A balanced diet will provide your body with the vital nutrients and energy it needs to keep going for the day.
- PLOS Medicine. Short sleep duration is associated with reduced leptin, elevated ghrelin, and increased body mass index.
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Acute partial sleep deprivation increases food intake in healthy men.
- Psychoneuroendocrinology. Acute sleep deprivation increases portion size and affects food choice in young men.