Why am I craving sugar when I am tired?You are binge-watching your favorite Netflix show way past midnight because the story really got you. Or you have an important deadline at work that requires some late-night shifts. Maybe you stayed out late with friends and danced the night away.
We all have sleepless nights from time to time. But have you also noticed that you are craving sugar-loaded foods and junk food after sleeping less? You wake up and you are tired and you have no energy and no motivation to fight your food cravings. So you give in to all the calorie-dense foods that are on your mind right now.
You are not alone and there is actually a scientific explanation for craving sugar when sleep deprived.
Medical reason for sugar cravings
Your sleep habits might be the reason for your unhealthy food cravings. Research suggests, that even 1 night of poor sleep affects your brain functions negatively. It decreases an area in your brain that is responsible for your decision making and complex judgment.
The studies observed that especially two hormones are out of balance when you are sleep deprived. Concentrations of the hunger hormone ghrelin increased. On the other hand levels of leptin, the hormone that tells you when you are satisfied, are decreased.
The amount of sleep has an impact on your hormonal balance. It either suppresses or promotes food intake.
Chronic disturbances of sleep can, therefore, result in weight gain.
Our body is looking for carbs and sugar-rich junk food when we are sleep deprived because it is searching for quick and easy energy. This is mostly given with carbohydrates.
Also, serotonin is the hormone that lifts up your mood and carbs and high-fat foods encourage its secretion.
What to eat when tired
Sometimes we reach a point in life where sleep deprivation is unavoidable. Let’s say you are a new mom then constant tiredness comes naturally.
I recommend you eat low glycemic index (GI) foodsto satiate your hunger.
Every time you eat carbs your digestive system breaks them down into simple sugars that enter the bloodstream. Carbs are divided into different types and each has a different effect on your blood sugar.
The glycemic index is a system that ranks foods on their influence on your blood sugar levels.
“The rates at which different foods raise blood sugar levels are ranked in comparison with the absorption of 50 grams of pure glucose, which is used as a reference food and has a GI value of 100.”
Foods with a low GI are the best choice to eat when you are tired. They are slowly digested and transferred slowly into your bloodstream. That means you don’t experience extreme sugar spikes and falls.
Only foods that contain carbs are included for the GI index. Non-carb foods like meat, eggs, fish, herbs do not significantly raise your blood sugar. Therefore they are not to be found on the GI index list.
Foods that beat fatigue
There are foods to combat tiredness. Even though all foods give you energy, some foods contain nutrients that will increase your energy level.
Foods with good protein quality like fish, high fiber foods help to keep you full for longer and healthy fats from nuts or avocados for example.
- skim milk
- soy milk
- low-fat cheese
Top 6 ways to beat sugar cravings (nutritionist approved)
- Eat fermented foods
Fermented foods offer a variety of health benefits and are mostly known to benefit a healthy gut. Foods like kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut or tempeh are perfect to beat your sweet tooth. The sour taste helps to fight the urge for something sweet. Also, fermented foods help to suppress bacteria that survive on sugar and contribute to sugar addiction.
- Increase your protein
When you eat sugar you instantly experience a sugar high, energy rises. That high is then followed by a crash leaving you feeling sluggish and in a bad mood. To beat the mood you want to eat sugar again and again. Try to eat protein-rich foods instead: eggs, nuts, chicken, quinoa, cottage cheese. They don’t start the rollercoaster of mood swings. They provide a more steady energy supply and leave you satisfied for longer.
- Eat sour foods
The sour taste challenges your taste buds and takes your mind off the sweet cravings. Try it and squeeze some lemon into your water.
- Avoid processed foods
Processed foods are full of flavor enhancers, sugar, salt, fat and they generally don’t provide any nutrients. The more you eat these foods, the more will your body crave them. After you have cut out processed foods a few days you will notice that you are craving them less. Form new habits with healthier options.
- Sleep more
The lack of sleep makes it hard to stay focused and make healthy decisions. To give your body the ability to function on its A-game, aim to get 7-8 hours of sleep per night. That will help to regulate your appetite and keep your metabolism working efficiently.
- Reduce stress
When we find ourself in stressful situations we tend to reach for high-sugar foods. But the supposed comfort foods do actually add more stress to our body. They worsen the level of stress by affecting blood sugar levels and hormones in a negative way.
Find your own way to get out of cravings
We are all individuals and what works for your friend might not necessarily work for you.
Here are a few more tips to consider to get rid of your sugar cravings. Distract your mind with a gentle workout or a walk in the park. Sometimes a change of the scenery can already help to distract you from craving sugar.
If you get overwhelmed by your cravings, your strategy to get out can be to indulge – but try to keep it healthy. Jilian Michaels says “Depriving a sweet tooth is a recipe for disaster.”
Cutting out foods can result in an uncontrollable binge later.
Find healthier alternatives for your cravings, for example, dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate. Instead of nutella you can eat low-sugar nut butter. Replace your salty chips with a hand full of unsalted nuts.
Your brain is looking to satisfy its reward center. By eating healthy alternatives you can kill the craving without any harm to your health.
How to stay awake when tired
When you had a short night and you feel sluggish all day you try everything to stay awake to manage your everyday life.
What about coffee you might wonder?!
Coffee can be a lifesaver when you had a sleepless night and give you the energy you need to survive the day. But coffee can also start a vicious circle when you drink it too late in the day . You might still feel the energy boost when it is time to go to bed and it will result in another sleepless night.
Besides drinking coffee there is more you can do to stay awake:
keep your body moving
take a 20 minute power nap if necessary
eat nutrition dense foods
start a conversation to wake up your mind
turn up the lights