How sleep affects cravings, weight and running performance

I’m excited to kick off the reset in a few weeks with many of you! The group support and accountability is one of the best aspects of this group- it always amazes me.

Making good choices for our health is more complicated than just food.   A few months ago, I wrote a post on 7 Reasons Distance Runners Struggle to Lose Weight.  One of the pieces I want to expand on is sleep.

It’s on my mind. As a mom to a 3 week old, I’m not getting a whole lot of it these days.  🙂

As a culture, we are chronically sleep deprived (and dream deprived).  We find ways of dealing with this with stimulants (hello, caffeine and sweets!) in the morning or afternoon and depressants (alcohol, sleep medications) in the evening.  Dr. Rubin Naiman considers this the “medicalization” of sleep and calls it dangerously unhealthy.

How Sleep affects cravings, weight and athletic performance

How Does Lack of Sleep Affect Us?

Lack of sleep has implications for our health on all levels, but I’m going to focus particularly on  food cravings, weight management and running performance

These three are all closely connected.  When we are sleep deprived, our appetite regulating hormones are suppressed (grehlin and leptin) so we don’t feel full and satisfied as we normally would.  Our bodies are looking for quick energy to feel better, so we generally crave sweet foods and processed carbohydrates (cereal, crackers, granola bars, etc).  Both of these are broken down into simple sugars in the body that spike our blood sugar and give us an instant pick-me-up, but soon drop off leaving us in a slump again and looking for more carbohydrates and sugar.

(Have you experienced this? It’s the story of my life these days running on broken sleep! I’m drawn to carbohydrates and sugar like crazy.)

Cortisol, the stress hormone, also rises when we are sleep deprived which can cause the body to store more fat and inhibits weight loss.  This, plus the combination of poorly regulated appetite hormones and excess sugar can lead to a much more difficult time managing weight. Many studies have been done on this topic and you can read more on sleep loss and the weight connection here.

In terms of running and training, you can run a good race on a few nights of rocky sleep.  But constant sleep deprivation will affect your training, recovery and overall performance.  This article has more research and details on the running-sleep connection.

Beyond those areas, sleep is essential for strong immunity, mental sharpness and clarity, better mood, improved memory, less inflammation and is associated with a longer lifespan.

Sometimes, sleep is out of our control.  I can’t do a whole lot about night time wakings until my baby is a little older and sleeping better.  But when it is in your control, tone down the stimulants and depressants to allow your body to find it’s natural rhythms.  Turn off the electronics, set up healthy sleep habits, have a regular bedtime routine and attempt to go to bed earlier.  It pays off!

How much sleep do you get?

Have you noticed lack of sleep affecting your appetite, cravings and/or training?


42 thoughts on “How sleep affects cravings, weight and running performance

  1. I know I don’t sleep enough! But when I was really sleep deprived (4 hours and not all at once) I always felt sort of sick, not really more hungry but then again it’s a blur and I can’t remember. I haven’t experienced the cravings people talk about related to sleep but it makes you feel so “off” that I’m sure that leads to a bunch of different problems in people.
    Michele @ paleorunningmomma recently posted..Jogging Stroller Memories and Ghost PainMy Profile

  2. I’ve been a little sleep deprived lately. I’ve had a cold (which I know know is a sinus infection) and my sleep has been restless. I definitely have the carb/sugar cravings. Hopefully I’ll get back to normal asap!
    Angela @ Happy Fit Mama recently posted..SisuMy Profile

  3. Thanks for this reminder. I have noticed hat when I don’t get enough sleep, I tend to be more irritable, more hungry and just overall more miserable. Right now with running I’m finding I need between 8-9 hours of sleep. My body will not run well on anything less.
    Hollie recently posted..Tidewater Striders 1 Mile (5:50)My Profile

  4. I definitely see a difference when I am not sleeping as well. You have an excuse, and it is worth a little sleep deprivation to be there for your beautiful little girl, but I find sometimes I just cannot sleep, and I know its affecting my training, but the more I worry about it, the more stressed I get….which is a vicious cycle. With a race coming up this weekend, I am trying to increase my sleep. Hopefully it will help, my body seems to run okay on less than 8 hours…..for now…..
    Tina Muir recently posted..Secrets to Success: 8 Minutes to a Stronger CoreMy Profile

  5. First of all, I love that you write about important, research backed topics in a concise, readable manner. So thank you!

    Next, I am finding it quite amazing how I am functioning on such little sleep. Maybe it’s a combination of hormones and adrenaline and caffeine! Before the baby, if I slept this little, I would be a complete zombie with a terrible attitude!

    Last, I haven’t noticed many changes in cravings or appetite since the baby but when I was marathon training, and I didn’t get enough sleep, I ate many many more carbs than I should have. I found myself reaching for bagels each morning and consumed much more caffeine. The changes in my appetite were noticeable on days I slept more vs less!
    Ashley recently posted..CurrentlyMy Profile

    • Thanks for your sweet words, Ashley! I try to keep it both research based and readable, so I really appreciate that.

      And yes- marathon training increased my need for sleep and the cravings skyrocketed then, too. I know what you mean about sleep with the baby- I think moms have some kind of extra adrenaline to power through!
      Laura recently posted..3 Weeks Old: Baby, Mom, and Breast Pump GiveawayMy Profile

  6. First of all, I empathize with you right now. It is so tough in those early, sleep deprived weeks!

    Second, I think sleep is HUGE! I’m thankful that I get good rest consistently. Without it, I kind of fall apart. I’ve always been amazed at those folks who function on so little.
    misszippy recently posted..The trip that almost didn’t happenMy Profile

  7. I have decided that as a morning person, I naturally get exhausted by nighttime and have no choice but to go to sleep lol. I function best in the morning so I never try to accomplish much later in the day. I don’t always sleep soundly (who does after having kids?) but I definitely get more rest than the average person. I struggled big time as a new mom during the newborn phases when you are up all night – definitely affected me in a terrible way. After a few days of no sleep, I was mean, nauseous and unable to function.
    Meredith @ The Cookie ChRUNicles recently posted..WIAW – Citifield Luxury Suite EatsMy Profile

  8. Usually for me when I am having an insomniac kind of week (it always lasts for several days at a stretch), I just feel off. I don’t know that it affects cravings, but maybe I haven’t paid attention. I do know that I get really grumpy and overly emotional. I think it affects my weight workouts more than running though. And maybe that’s b/c I run so early in the morning that I feel half a sleep most of the time anyway LOL.
    Heather (Where’s the Beach) recently posted..Running and Getting CraftyMy Profile

  9. I usually get about 7-8 hours of sleep/night, but I’m very interested in your reference to people not getting enough DREAM time, because sometimes I still awaken feeling as though I’m not really rested… as if my sleep didn’t really cycle properly, if that makes sense. If my sleep is restless or too light, the fatigue seems to accumulate by the end of the week, as Marcia mentioned above

    Having to take an anti-inflammatory last weekend, I slept very soundly, and am also now wondering whether inflammation may interfere with quality sleep?? A thought to google one of these days. 🙂

  10. Sleep deprivation has been at a high these last few weeks. I’ve been trying to counter it with fresh air before eating to help me understand what my body truly wants.

    In a few weeks I’ll prep more for daughter 2’s arrival to help with quality food intake. It might also just be a list as a reminder, too, of ideas.
    Wendy recently posted..The Loneliness of Step ParentingMy Profile

  11. i am still struggling with this. i go to bed early but am woken up once by the little one to eat during the night and in the early hours by both of them. there have been a few nights of 6-7 straight hours of sleep, but i am so chronically sleep deprived that it’s not enough. it is really the worst, and i’m not sure what to do about it. i wish i was better at napping, but i find that i’m going like 90 mph during the day and cannot rest even if i have the chance. it’s awful. i hope it’s temporary and that eventually i get to sleep all night. someday. right?
    runner26 recently posted..Menu Planning – August 17My Profile

  12. It has been years and years since I’ve slept well. I average less than 5 hours of sleep a night and usually it isn’t all at one time – I wake up and spend lots of time awake in the middle of the night. I know that on days (usually in the winter) when I’m more tired than normal I have to be careful or I find myself snacking (usually on junk) all day long!!!
    Kim recently posted..Proud to be…My Profile

  13. Oh I definitely notice an increase in cravings when my sleep is poor. My husband and I have been working on launching a business and it’s done mostly between the hours of 8pm and 1am (aka – after Eleanor goes to bed). We find ourselves making bad eating decisions at night and the next day. Thanks for this post!
    Joanna @Makingmine recently posted..iowa state fair 2014My Profile

  14. I have definitely seen sleep affect my eating habits and my running as well. I am much better than I used to be and now typically get 6-8 hours a night, which is huge improvement of past sleep. I have found I can handle my crazy schedule a lot more if I actually cut some meaningless things out and actually get to bed at a reasonable hour when I can.
    Laura @losingrace recently posted..One Month Out, Welcome to the GrindMy Profile

  15. Yep – I notice it almost immediately – mostly in the area of food cravings. My running doesn’t seem to suffer, but I have mad carb cravings. I’m working on getting more sleep – some weeks are better than others – it’s the piece of the puzzle I struggle with the most.
    Michelle recently posted..One Week Down, Fifteen To GoMy Profile

  16. Pingback: Leaving With Lots Of Link Love

  17. I try to be in bed at least 8 hours before my alarm but I find it takes me a while to fall asleep especially after PM workouts and likely due to caffeine intake! And I wake up each night to pee (hydrating after those night workouts) so it’s not quality. I want to try a fitbit to track my sleep quality because I’m about to go into marathon training and I know how important it is!
    Nicole recently posted..CIM Pre-Season Weeks 5 & 6 and Long Beach Marathon Entry Giveaway Winner!My Profile

  18. Pingback: Sunday Funday 8/31/14 - Skinny Fitalicious

  19. Pingback: 5 Ways to Counter Inflammation from Running |

Comments are closed.