Bowl of oatmeal with banana slices, fresh blueberries and slivered almonds.

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How to Snack Smarter When You’re Sleepy

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How to Snack Smarter When You're Sleepy

Exhaustion makes the brain’s hunger and fullness hormones go haywire, which explains why you might find yourself mindlessly raiding the fridge late at night.


According to a study published in SLEEP, a scientific and medical journal from the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, sleep deprivation also boosts levels of the brain chemicals that make eating more enjoyable—so not only do you feel hungrier when you’re tired, you may be more likely to reach for guilty-pleasure snacks.


“The less sleep you get, the more your body starts signaling your brain that it’s hungry,” says Ashvini Mashru, a registered dietitian and owner of Wellness Nutrition Concepts in Malvern, Pennsylvania. “This spells trouble, because a sleep-starved brain is less equipped to make complex decisions or tell your body to chill out.” When you’re short on sleep, these tips can help you make healthier choices.


1. Have a glass of water.

Thirst can be mistaken for hunger because the same part of the brain, the hypothalamus, controls both sensations. Hydrating after a rough night’s sleep can help keep cravings at bay. “Most of us wake up dehydrated, which adds to our feelings of fatigue, yet few of us remember to drink a glass of water upon rising,” Mashru says. “Staying hydrated will keep you from eating when you are actually thirsty.”


2. Don’t skip breakfast.

Research has shown that eating breakfast not only provides a pick-me-up when you’re exhausted, it’s also linked to healthier food choices throughout the day. “Steel-cut oatmeal is one of your best bets, thanks to complex carbs, which give a slow, steady dose of energy,” Mashru says.


3. Rethink your craving.

According to a review in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, lack of sleep can lessen self-control, which makes mindful eating more difficult. “Ask yourself, ‘Why am I craving this particular food?” Mashru says. You may realize you’re actually eating out of habit rather than hunger — like grabbing an afternoon macchiato or eating a bowl of ice cream before bed.


4. Occupy your time.

Sleep is essential, and when you don’t get enough, your body looks for other fuel sources. “It’s all about the carbs and calories—that’s what our sleep-deprived brains want,” Mashru says. But sugary snacks can cause your energy to spike and crash. Instead, go for a walk (the American Council on Exercise notes that exercise is a natural energy booster) or take a nap to recharge your batteries.


5. Make healthy swaps.

When you’re jonesing for junk food, try to find nutrient-rich alternatives. Sweet cravings may be satisfied with a frozen banana or a glass of chocolate milk. Or if you want a salty and crunchy snack, reach for kale chips or cucumbers dipped in pico de gallo. Still can’t stave off the craving? “Give in … but just a little,” Mashru says. “Eat a small piece, savor it and enjoy.”



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