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How ‘Junk Sleep' Leads To Junk Food

How ‘Junk Sleep' Leads To Junk Food
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It’s late. You’re tired. You’re hungry. You open up a bag of a snack food -- let’s say, chips -- and 20 minutes later, it’s empty. The whole bag is gone!

You may not be hungry anymore, but you’ve sabotaged your day, nutritionally speaking. The quantities of calories, salt and fats you’ve just consumed far exceed the daily recommended allowances (not counting what you had already eaten).

Going through these motions of mindlessly satisfying your late-day hunger with little or no dietary value is an all-too-familiar scenario for many of us. Repeating this over time could contribute to high blood pressure, clogged arteries and even obesity.

Why would you do such a thing? You knew it was unwise. You had a fulfilling breakfast, lunch and dinner. Why were you so hungry, and why did you reach for that greasy bag when the pantry and refrigerator were stocked with much healthier alternatives?

The answer to all of these questions could be, “junk sleep.”

What is junk sleep? Insufficient, inadequate, fragmented sleep. Junk sleep happens when you go through the motions of sleep, but fall short both in terms of duration and quality all too often. This can happen for weeks, or even months at a time. Several studies have strongly suggested that curtailed quality sleep not only leads to overeating, but also an abandonment of healthy eating habits, leading to poor food choices. In a sentence, junk sleep leads to junk food.

A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition identified a link between insufficient sleep and an increase in daily calories from snacks. Another study conducted by researchers at the Mayo Clinic attempted to quantify the effect of ineffective sleep on caloric intake. It found that sleep-deprived subjects consumed upward of 500 more calories per day than the adequately rested control group did. If this high-calorie intake is sustained, an extra pound is imminent in just a matter of weeks! Could junk sleep be partly to blame for America’s obesity crisis? A third of the adult U.S. population is obese, with nearly 60 percent of people overweight.

To break it down, insufficient sleep has been shown to alter:

  1. Our appetite-regulating hormones. It appears that when we are sleep-deprived, we are constantly hungry and never quite satisfied with our meals or caloric intake. The result? We consume unnecessary calories.

  • Our decision-making and behavioral responses when it comes to food choices. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has revealed activities in the tired brain that correlate to certain food cravings. So not only do we consume unnecessary calories when sleep-challenged, they’re usually empty calories -- junk food.
  • Our willpower. Sleep plays an important role in how and if we make decisions. Caving in to temptations is a hallmark of poor sleep -- including temptations like another piece of pie.
  • Another thing to remember is, not all sleep is created equal. You might be in bed for the recommended seven to nine hours per night, but if your sleep is repeatedly interrupted by pets, your partner’s snoring or the TV, it could be non-restorative. If your sleep is altered by excessive caffeine or alcohol late in the day, it could degrade several of your precious hours in bed to, “junk level status.” A poor sleep environment (evidenced by an insufficient mattress and pillow, a too hot or too cold temperature, or excessive light) might do the same thing. Many factors can downgrade well-intended time in bed to, well, a waste of time of sorts.

    As we enter the New Year, it’s a good time to look at your sleep report card. Are you getting enough? Perhaps more importantly, is your sleep high-grade, or junk? Minor changes and choices can deliver tremendous improvements.

    You’ve probably heard the term, “You are what you eat.” Well, add this to your lifestyle mantras going forward: “You are how you sleep.” Sleep affects everything!

    Sleep is important for your optimal health. Sleep Number® beds adjust on each side to your ideal level of firmness, comfort and support to ensure you're well-rested enough to make smart choices when it comes to eating healthfully.

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