Less sleep, more food?

by Anne Myers-Wright RD/APD

Posted on Nov 17, 10:39 AM in and . No comments.

How are you sleeping these days?

Chatting to a few people (online) and quite a few have mentioned that they are not sleeping well; with a theme of waking around 2 am and not being able to get back to sleep. The causes of this? Stress, worry, anxiety. There are so many things going on for so many of us that affect our sleep patterns. There does seem to be a pandemic insomnia going on.

Lack of sleep can affect us in many ways, including altering our eating patterns. Yes, diet can be related to sleep. Many studies over the years have demonstrated links between sleep, diet and weight. Having less sleep can result in eating more.

This year, a systematic review and meta‐analysis of intervention studies aimed to evaluate the effect of sleep health on dietary intake in adults was published. The review included 24 studies which examined the effect of sleep on dietary intake (timing and duration).

The findings suggest that sleep duration restricted to ≤5.5 h day increased energy (calorie) intake, with a mean increase of 204 kcal day. The increased intake resulting from restricted sleep duration was found to be increased by higher fat, protein and/or carbohydrate intake.

But don’t worry if you just have one bad night. Restricted sleep of ≥5 days had a greater effect on increasing energy intake than sleep restricted for a shorter period.

The researchers of this review concluded that partial sleep restriction can negatively influence aspects of dietary intake, which may have implications for weight management and chronic disease risk, if not offset by increasing activity.

So why might restricted sleep cause us to eat more?

-Short sleep duration can disrupt circadian rhythms and circadian misalignment has been found to disrupt appetitive hormones leptin (which promotes satiety) and ghrelin (which stimulates hunger). Some studies have found that a shorter sleep duration is associated with lower leptin levels and higher ghrelin levels. However, so far, we don’t have enough strong evidence to support this theory.

-There may be activation of brain regions associated with reward and food related behaviours after a period of restricted sleep . (This means that brain areas involved with motivation, decision making, thinking, problem solving, and self-control may be altered leading to people seeking food as a reward).

-The availability of more time to eat because of short sleep duration and extended wakefulness is also proposed as an explanation for increased intake. Shorter sleep duration may result in more frequent meals and snacks and/or eating energy dese foods late at night.

Whether or not you consider an average increase of around 200Kcal/day excessive, sleep over 5.5 hrs a night, trying to get more sleep is so important.


Fenton, S., Burrows, T.L., Skinner, J.A. & Duncan, M.J. (2020) The influence of sleep health on dietary intake: a systematic review and meta‐analysis of intervention studies. J Hum Nutr Diet. 00, 1– 13 https://doi.org/10.1111/jhn.12813

About the author

Anne Myers-Wright

Anne Myers-Wright RD/APD

Anne is a Health Professions Council (HPC) registered dietitian (RD), an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD- Australia), a fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA), a member of the British Dietetic Association, The Nutrition Society and of The Dietetics Association of Australia.


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