How to Battle Those Sleep Deprivation Cravings

This article is a response to 6 Tips for Eating Your Way Through a Sleep Deprived Day by Ashley Bailey, MS, RDN, LDN.

Did you know that a lack of sleep can affect your cravings for richer foods? In this article, Bailey accurately explains one of the physiological reasons why we tend to go towards richer foods when we don’t get enough sleep: the hormones in our body that control appetite get out of balance, which tricks your brain into thinking that you “need” that sugary food for a quick energy boost. Bailey also quotes a recent scientific study that concludes that people tend to eat more calories when they are sleep deprived (1), a finding that is supported by other research (2). She then concludes the article by giving some great tips that may help you with energy during the day and even provides readers with a breakfast recipe!

However, the author fails to acknowledge two key pieces of this puzzle!

First, the tips provided don’t take into account how difficult it is to make healthy choices when you are sleep-deprived. Most people can’t “just say no to donuts, pastries, most cereals, sweetened yogurts, etc.” when they are feeling exhausted and their brain is sending them signals to eat that sugary food in front of them. What would be more helpful are some tips that help you reflect on the reasons why you are gravitating towards that food, such as Intuitive Eating techniques.

Second, there is a bigger picture here at play. Lack of sleep has not only been linked to food intake, but also to diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, mood disorders, immune function, alcohol use, and life expectancy (2). Therefore, it is important to take a step back and focus on what is causing the lack of sleep and how it impacts other aspects of your life and health–not just the extra calories you might be taking in. This narrow view of health is too common in healthcare–when we see a problem and only focus on one aspect of the solution rather than looking at the issue holistically. In the author’s defense though, she is a Registered Dietitian (as am I) and nutrition is her area of expertise, so it makes sense that food is what she focused on. “Treating” someone who is sleep-deprived with foods that will “fuel” them can help in the short term (key word: short term!). However, what is even more important is getting to the root cause (i.e. what is causing you to be sleep-deprived) and making sleep a priority, not a luxury.

I know what some readers might be thinking. You might have a very demanding job that keeps you awake at night. You might be a new parent and the baby is waking you up every two hours. You might be a student that is pulling an all-nighter to study for an exam. Let’s be realistic here: these situations do happen (hopefully not all at the same time) and there are some ways to manage short-term sleep deprivation. In the short term, the tips that the author provides can help you get through a sleep-deprived day. However, getting at the bottom of the problem and getting more quality sleep will benefit you in so many aspects of your life, and your body will thank you. For more information on sleep and some tips on how to improve it, visit Canadian Sleep Society’s website or book an appointment with one of our amazing dietitians.



  1. The effects of partial sleep deprivation on energy balance: a systematic review and meta-analysis
  2. Consequences of Insufficient Sleep by Harvard Medical School
  3. Impact of insufficient sleep on total daily energy expenditure, food intake, and weight gain
  4. 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating