Sleep: The Silent Overeating Trigger

Sleep and overeating? I have to work with nearly every client on their sleep hygiene because it impacts their eating habits in such a big way. This often comes as a big surprise. It is also discouraging to most people because many of us don’t get enough sleep. We tend to view sleep as something we will fit in after we have done all of the other things on our list for the day.

How does sleep impact overeating?

There are a few ways lack of sleep can impact our relationship with food. First, from a biological perspective, lack of sleep interferes with our body’s ability to regulate hormones. Specifically related to food, two such hormones are Ghrelin and Leptin.

Ghrelin

Ghrelin’s main hormonal role is to signal to our brain and body that we need to seek out food. The amount of ghrelin released will increase until our hunger is satisfied. When we aren’t getting enough sleep, our body will release extra ghrelin. This is problematic in a couple of ways: our appetite becomes difficult to satiate and ghrelin slows our metabolism, in addition to decreasing the body’s ability to burn fat.

Leptin

Leptin’s main function is to tell the body it has had enough food and give the green light for burning fat. Leptin is thought to be produced in REM sleep cycles, so when we don’t get enough sleep, we don’t produce adequate leptin. When we are left with too much ghrelin and not enough leptin, there is a huge gap in our ability to satisfy our hunger. We also see people who don’t get enough sleep struggle to lose weight because both of these hormones work against weight loss.

How to improve sleep:

Examining why you aren’t getting enough sleep is crucial. Are you not allocating enough time for adequate sleep or is something interfering with your sleep? If you aren’t making time for sleep, hopefully this will be a “wake up” call (ha ha!) to encourage you to prioritize sleep! It truly is one of the most critical elements of health and a healthy body weight. To help you with interferences with sleep, try some of these tools:

Extended exhale breathing:

This is one of my favorites because it is so easy! Breathe in for 5 counts, hold for 2 counts and breathe out for 10-12 counts. Breathing this way helps bring your parasympathetic nervous system online and it provides a distraction from worry thoughts.

Vagal reset:

Laying on your back, keep your head straight ahead. Move your eyes to one side without moving your head. Hold this eye position for 30-60 seconds. You will feel your body relax. You may notice a sigh or yawn. Then hold your eyes in a straight forward position for a few seconds before moving them to the other side. Again, keep your head in a neutral position. Hold the eyes to the other side for 30-60 seconds. This is a great way to calm your nervous system. It is also a good primer for any grounding exercise.

EFT Tapping:

By lightly tapping on acupressure points while acknowledging thoughts and emotions, you can release stress, anxiety and worry. This is so helpful before bed or if you wake up during the night. If you are new to tapping, click here for more information. You can find hundreds of guided tapping scripts on YouTube. Once you have the hang of it, you can simply tap on the points and voice emotions and body sensations to help them clear.

Hypnosis:

All hypnosis is self-hypnosis. You can find very helpful videos on YouTube to walk you through a guided session. If I wake during the night, I use a very simple self-hypnosis technique. While lying in bed, I close my eyes, take a deep breath and hold for 3 counts before releasing. I repeat this twice. Then, I roll my eyes up to the top of my head and repeat the breathing twice before closing my eyes. Keep your eyes rolled up and take another breath holding for 3 counts. While keeping the eyes up, imagine your eyes are glued shut and try to open them. Take another breath. Still keeping the eyes rolled up, repeat a mantra that creates a sense of peace and calm over and over in your mind until you fall asleep. Works like a charm!

Hopefully, this helps you gain some tools to improve your sleep. Improving sleep nearly always helps decrease overeating. The first step is making it a priority! If you find that you need more help untangling your relationship with overeating, contact me. Check out my page on what to expect from treatment and answer any questions you may have here.

Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis has a Bachelor's degree in Psychology from Weber State University and a Master's degree in Social Work from the University of Utah. She has been working in the mental health field since 2001.
Michelle Lewis

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