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How Sleep May Change Your Eating Habits

Being sleep deprived can make you do strange things. You might put the remote in the fridge, answer your phone when the doorbell rings, or put orange juice in your cereal on accident. You just don’t have the brain power to do things right when you’re not sleeping well — and that includes eating.

Any parent who’s ever stared into the fridge and quickly eaten a snack before getting back to a crying baby can understand how sleep deprivation and exhaustion can influence how well you eat.

There’s a scientific explanation for the effect sleep deprivation has on eating. Habitually sleeping less than 7.7 hours each night is associated with increased BMI. Shorter sleep duration is also associated with decreased leptin (the satisfied hormone), and increased ghrelin (the hunger hormone), which can lead to an increased appetite.

A study of sleep deprivation and eating habits found sleep loss typically leads to an increase in food intake in adults. After a night of sleep deprivation, participants chose larger portions regardless of the type of food, suggesting a risk of overeating in the morning following sleep deprivation.

Maintaining Healthy Eating Habits When Sleep is Difficult

If your healthy eating habits are being harmed by sleep deprivation, use these tips to eat and sleep better, so you have the energy you need for your days with a new baby.

  • Ask for healthy meals. Many new parents are fortunate to have meal trains or friends and family who offer to bring by food when a baby arrives. But the heavy casseroles common with food delivered by friends can quickly become too much to handle. Don’t be shy about making specific requests. If you just want a salad or need someone to bring by some fresh produce because you can’t get to the store, say so.
  • Plan ahead. It can be difficult to plan anything with a new baby in the house but don’t let 5 o’clock roll around without a plan for dinner. And don’t let yourself forget to eat because you’re so busy tending to your baby, especially breastfeeding moms. Waiting too long to eat can leave you feeling especially hungry and prone to choosing unhealthy food, or overeating. When you get a chance, take a little time to prepackage healthy breakfasts, lunches, and snacks that you can grab and eat easily while holding your baby, so most days you only need to worry about handling dinner (or graciously accepting a meal from others).
  • Get the best sleep you can. We know that getting good sleep can help you make better decisions when you eat. But rest can be difficult to come by for families with babies who are still getting the hang of sleeping well. Use strategies including taking shifts, going to bed early, and taking naps when your baby does to maximize your ability to rest when you need it.
  • Maintain a healthy sleep environment. Although your bedroom may be permeated by crying at night, make sure all other sleep environment factors are where they should be. Your mattress and bedding should be comfortable and appropriate for your needs. Consider using blackout curtains, a white noise machine, and a fan to make your bedroom more quiet and dark. Good ventilation and lower Co2 levels can improve sleep quality, so consider an air purifier for your bedroom.

The early months with a baby are often all about survival. You probably won’t maintain perfect eating or sleeping habits during this time. But it is possible to support healthy eating and sleeping with some self-care so you can be well prepared for life with a newborn.

Tuck Sleep is a community devoted to improving sleep hygiene, health and wellness through the creation and dissemination of comprehensive, unbiased, free web-based resources. For more information on sleep health, resource guides on better sleep, and reviews of sleep products visit Tuck.com.