Does sleep affect my food choices?

Does sleep actually matter? Do I eat more when I sleep less?

Carrying on with last weeks theme of self-control and food choices, I thought it might be interesting this week to explore sleep deprivation and how that has an affect on our food choices.

We have all been told that having a good nights sleep is a crucial part of leading a healthy lifestyle. Many of us aim for a good nights sleep of 8h but can fall short of this due to different commitments we have. I have heard many people tell me they do not require that many hours of sleep. Although this may feel the case, it is important for us to understand how sleep deprivation can cause a lack of optimum decision making in other areas. 

As many of you will be aware, a range of factors can affect the food choices you make including availability, stress, ease of consumption etc. For the purpose of this blog post I will focus on sleep, and intend to cover others in another blog post.

There have been a range of studies discussing this issue of lack of sleep and if it is directly correlated to obesity. As a population on average, we suffer from a chronic lack of sleep and so this can have long term effects on our decision making. Harrison et al. (2000) found that in the short term, sleep deprivation impairs decision making in tasks involving unexpected, innovation, revising plans, competing distraction, and effective communication. Killgore et al. (2006) found that decision making made under uncertainty may be vulnerable to sleep loss and this can be worsened with age. Harrison & Horne (1999) found that when participants played decision making games in a state of deprived sleep, they showed impairment in innovatory thinking and flexible decision making.

It is clear that with a lack of sleep our decision making can show signs of being impaired. So how does this relate to food?

Brondel et al. (2010) study on acute partial sleep deprivation on males showed than in comparison with individuals who slept 8h, individuals consumed 22% more calories on the day after they had been sleep deprived. Markwald et al. (2013) builds on this by discussing repeated nights of insufficient sleep and how it impacts food intake. The study discusses that even though energy expenditure was up 5%, energy intake was in excess of what is needed to maintain energy balance, with this being especially at night after dinner. This was argued to be a psychological adaptation to provide energy needed to sustain the additional hours of being awake. However, when the food is easy accessible, the intake surpasses what is required to maintain energy balance. 

Benedict et al. (2012) explains that this happens due to the the sleep enhancing the pleasure stimulus processing in the brain which drives us to consume food. Wells Cruess (2004) reported that food choices were altered following deprivation, with individuals choosing foods less for health and weight concerns. It is clear that individuals are severely affected by their present bias (see last blog post) leading them to be less able to exercise their self-control.

Therefore, it is clear than although we may be able to function on less sleep, it is not optimum for our decision making. Individuals are more likely to pick unhealthy, high energy food choices to gain more energy when they are sleep deprived. Over time this can be detrimental to weight and future health. My take away point would be to try and gain as much sleep as you can. I know myself this can be hard for different reasons, but it will significantly benefit your health in the long-term and your decision making around food.


Benedict, C., Brooks, S. J., O’Daly, O. G., Almen, M. S., Morell, A., Åberg, K., … & Schiöth, H. B. (2012). Acute sleep deprivation enhances the brain’s response to hedonic food stimuli: an fMRI study. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism97(3), E443-E447.

Brondel, L., Romer, M. A., Nougues, P. M., Touyarou, P., & Davenne, D. (2010). Acute partial sleep deprivation increases food intake in healthy men. The American journal of clinical nutrition91(6), 1550-1559.

Harrison, Y., & Horne, J. A. (1999). One night of sleep loss impairs innovative thinking and flexible decision making. Organizational behavior and human decision processes, 78(2), 128-145.

Harrison, Y., & Horne, J. A. (2000). The impact of sleep deprivation on decision making: a review. Journal of experimental psychology: Applied, 6(3), 236.

Killgore, W. D., Balkin, T. J., & Wesensten, N. J. (2006). Impaired decision making following 49 h of sleep deprivation. Journal of sleep research15(1), 7-13.

Markwald, R. R., Melanson, E. L., Smith, M. R., Higgins, J., Perreault, L., Eckel, R. H., & Wright, K. P. (2013). Impact of insufficient sleep on total daily energy expenditure, food intake, and weight gain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences110(14), 5695-5700.

Wells, T. T., & Cruess, D. G. (2006). Effects of partial sleep deprivation on food consumption and food choice. Psychology and health21(1), 79-86.

Leave a Reply