Scientists publishing in December’s issue of Appetite journal compared portion sizes in young men after a night of sleep and after an entire night without sleep. The researchers from Sweden and the UK found that after total sleep deprivation, the men had raised ghrelin, the hormone that increases hunger. Indeed, the subjects chose larger portions than when they had gotten a regular night of sleep. The supersizing continued as they snacked throughout the day.
But even short sleeps will play havoc with hormones. In earlier experiments at another university setting, students limited to 4 hours for two nights, ghrelin levels increased and leptin levels decreased.
The increased appetite and probable weight gain which comes with short and disturbed sleep—or zero sleep as in the European evidence—may be manageable if it is random, such as studying for a big exam or New Year’s Eve. But for night shift workers, it presents serious challenges.
One solution is to defend against the greedy ghrelin and lazy leptin. How? Keep lots of low-calorie foods and snacks at the ready. Then when you start foraging at 5 AM, your kitchen will offer fruit salad, creamy yogurt, popcorn, favorite soups…anything but the ice cream and cookie trap. Plan ahead.