Why do I crave bad food when I’m tired?

Do you ever leave work exhausted and just want to stop off at a fast food place and get a burger or have a pizza delivered? You’re not alone. This is a regular habit among most Americans. The fact that junk food is readily available certainly doesn’t help, but the craving might actually be a sign that you’re not getting enough sleep.

Your body craves sweet and salty when you’re tired

Beyond the obvious lack of desire to expend energy preparing something healthier, the desire for junk food is a signal that your body isn’t getting enough sleep. A study at the University of California at Berkley discovered that those who are lacking sleep tend to crave junk food.

Though previous studies have linked sleep deprivation to cravings for sweet and salty foods, the Berkley study discovered that there is another issue involved in your lack of control over what you eat when you’re tired.

Sleep deprivation affects your judgment

a-woman-struggles-with-tiredness-as-she-tries-to-study“Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), UC Berkeley researchers scanned the brains of 23 healthy young adults, first after a normal night’s sleep and next, after a sleepless night. They found impaired activity in the sleep-deprived brain’s frontal lobe, which governs complex decision-making, but increased activity in deeper brain centers that respond to rewards.” (Anwar, 2013)

Since sleep deprivation tends to increase activity in the part of the brain that craves a reward, sugary, salty, crunchy and cheesy rewards come to the forefront of our cravings. Those cravings, when paired with the impairment of the decision making function of our brains, pushes the cravings beyond our control and we cave to what we crave.

Dr. Saputo explains in this video:

Getting enough sleep strengthens your resistance to cravings

The other side of the story is also true. Getting enough sleep tends to help boost, not only our resistance to junk food cravings, but also helps us to make better decisions about what we choose, even when we have those cravings for bad food.

Another recent study confirms that “with a little more than an hour and a half of extra sleep per night (7.1 hours per night, versus 5.5 hours per night), participants had a 14 percent decrease in overall appetite and a 62 percent decrease in desire for sweet and salty foods.” (Food for Sleep)

How can you combat the bad food cravings?

a-woman-sleeps-at-her-deskThe answer is somewhat obvious, right? Get more sleep. Here are a couple of suggestions to help keep you from caving to the craving even when you’re simply exhausted from a long day at work:

• Always have a healthy snack available to curb that quick craving after work.
• Plan ahead for those tired evenings with meals that you prepare over the weekend and just have to heat up to serve.

Understanding that your cravings can get out of control, take a proactive approach. Keep yourself from becoming too tired and avoid having those bad foods readily available.

Works Cited:
Sleep deprivation linked to junk food cravings.
Why Do I Crave Junk Food When I’m Sleep Deprived?