After getting in from work after a long day, you feel ready to collapse before the door has opened off its hinges. It’s now 8pm and you were rudely waken by the alarm at 5.45 am. You plod through the lounge; half sleep walking, then collapse on the sofa. You reach for the ginger nut biscuits and a glass of wine to compensate for your internal feelings of exhaustion and self pity, putting your fitness and nutrition regime to one side.

Sleep deprivation is a common problem amongst UK citizens, with a reported 65% of UK adults acquiring 6 hours of sleep a night or less. If you ever thought or considered why you can’t stop reaching for biscuits or sugary snacks when you’re feeling tired, the answer lays in the effect sleep loss has on our endocrine system. Sleep deprivation leads to an increase in gut hunger hormone ghrelin.

Ghrelin not only tells the brain we are hungry, but acts upon brain reward pathways to induce our preference for sweet and sugary foods. This increases release of feel good chemicals in the brain serotonin, in a similar manner to drug seeking behaviour. The hormonal imbalance doesn’t just stop there. Habitual sleep loss decreases our satiety hormone leptin, which skews our normal sense of satiety. However, there are some excellent food choices which can mitigate the effects of severe energy deprivation and fight back against our hormonal imbalance.

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Good food for lack of sleep:

1) Oily fish

Fish such as salmon, pilchards, kippers, sardines and tuna are prime examples. They are a fine source of polyunsaturated fat, as well as protein. These macronutrients leave us feeling fuller for longer, which reduce our chances of choosing sugary foods like biscuits and cake. Whilst protein has a great satiety effect, the good fats help with the efficiency of the central nervous system. This means improved cognitive state, as our mood, memory and concentration can decline during extreme fatigue.

2) Nuts

Examples include Brazil Nuts, Macadamia nuts, cashews and pecans. These make an excellent snack when feeling fatigued. Taking nuts with you to work means you are less likely to feel the urge to raid the company cafeteria for the last slice of coffee cake. Nuts are a great source of monosaturated fats, which can help with regulating your appetite by keeping you full. Good fats like nuts are also key to keeping your hormones in check, such as the stress hormone cortisol. High cortisol levels induce high blood sugar levels, which can have a damaging effect on our weight loss by repartionioning excess nutrients to be stored as fat.

3) Eggs

These provide a source of protein, which keep us feeling full for longer, as well as free fatty acids EPA and DHA within the egg yolk. The role of these free fatty acids can mitigate the effects of muscle cell stress brought on from sleep debt. These free fatty acids, also found in oily fish, can help to lower blood pressure. This is significant because when we are subjected to sleep loss, our cardiac system is effected, which over a long period can lead to high blood pressure.

4) Blueberries

Blueberries are an excellent food choice for lack of sleep, which can be enjoyed with breakfast or a snack. When we are very fatigued, our immune system is affected. This makes us more prone to infection. Blueberries reduce oxidative stress and muscle cell inflammation brought on through tiredness. They also help to balance blood sugar levels, which can induce better appetite regulation.

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5) Mango

When we are tired our immune system takes a serious hit. This underlies why acquiring sufficient fruit and veg is even more important when sleep deprived . Not only does mango bolster our immune system; it contains natural sugars which our body craves when tired. This can help to manage energy levels, and counteract the effects of seeking processed sugars from confectionary.

6) Green tea

Technically not a food, but helps to manage our energy levels. Reaching for several green teas per day is a better option that consuming copious amounts of coffee, which not only induces insomnia and stomach cramps, but can raise our blood pressure; thus  increasing the  risk of cardiac contraindications. Green tea contains plant based nutrients, called polyphenols, which cleanse the body from within. As well as helping to induce a calming effect, the slow release of caffeine can help to manage concentration better than the instant hit a cup of coffee provides; which can eventually lead to a ‘crash’. Green tea contains plant based nutrients, called catechins, which can mitigate fatigue induced cell stress and improve cognitive skills like concentration and memory.

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