Exercise Can Help Fight Food Cravings From Lack of Sleep

Late nights and snacking often go hand in hand. Whether you find yourself reaching for a bag of chips out of boredom, or stress and anxiety encourage you to choose that box of cookies over a restful night’s sleep, it’s pretty clear that when lack of sleep is an issue, cravings become harder to resist.

Previous research has linked sleep deprivation with increased body mass index (BMI). In one study, short sleep duration was found to be associated with reduced leptin levels (the hormone responsible for decreasing appetite) and elevated ghrelin levels (the hormone responsible for increasing appetite).

So if sleep deprivation makes you feel hungrier than usual and less likely to feel satisfied after consuming enough food, getting enough sleep would seem like the obvious answer to restore hunger hormone levels back to where they should be. New research out of Sweden, however, suggests that sleep deprived people can do something else to help curb cravings when more sleep isn’t exactly an option — they can exercise.

Exercise while sleep deprived might sound counterintuitive considering how much more difficult it can be to get motivated to exercise when you’re already tired. But it might be worth it if it means reduced cravings.

The researchers took a group of healthy individuals and examined their “endocannabinoid” levels — brain chemicals that activate the body’s neurological receptors. Levels are known to increase as a result of sleep deprivation in ways that affect food cravings.

The subjects spent three nights in a sleep laboratory where they slept for eight and a half hours each night. Following these three nights of “normal” sleep, they spent three more nights in the lab sleeping for just four hours a night. Daytime activities and meals were kept consistent during both the normal sleep period and the shortened sleep period.

Endocannabinoid levels were monitored over the course of the experiment by taking blood samples periodically. Following the nights of shortened sleep duration, endocannabinoid levels showed an 80 percent spike in the main endogenous cannabinoid receptor, “2-arachidonoylglycerol.”

On the last day, the subjects were instructed to participate in a short session of intense exercise. Blood samples were also taken on this day before and after the exercise session.

Interestingly, the increased endocannabinoid levels from lack of sleep ended up decreasing by half and were even completely restored to normal levels in some cases after the subjects performed exercise. Since exercise helped balance out excess endocannabinoid levels, food cravings would also likely be balanced out.

These findings support the stress-relieving effect of exercise. Even when you’re running on less sleep than you should be, pushing yourself to get moving — even for a short period — may help restore neurological balance.

Exercise is beneficial regardless of whether you’re running on low sleep or you’re already well rested. Previous research has found that something as simple as a 15-minute walk has the power to significantly reduce cravings for chocolate, suggesting that even light physical activity can make a difference.

As a final benefit worth mentioning, exercise itself can be used to help you sleep better. All the more reason to commit to a regular exercise routine for those who may not have the time to sleep longer but would like to improve their sleep quality.

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock


William C
William C11 months ago


W. C.
W. C2 years ago

Thank you.

Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for sharing.

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Debby Mason-Davies


Peggy B.
Peggy B2 years ago

Good to know. TYFS

Maureen King
Maureen King2 years ago

Have been out of my usual exercise routine for quite a number of weeks.Sister in hospital in Sydney ( around 2 12 hours away), driving down after work,getting home grabbing a couple of hours sleep,going to work.Kept that up for a couple of weeks.
Then got an influenza a virus, which laid me (very) low for a couple of weeks.Funnily enough I just started back into my old exercise routine tonight. Was tempted to put it off, a bit achy and tired. Washed and polished car on weekend.Cleaned up gardens, did lawn edges, fed gardens, plus housework etc. But, bit the bullet tonight and will exercise at least 4 nights a week.Trust me,will be back to sleeping and feeling better.

natasha salgado
Past Member 2 years ago


Twila H.
Twila H2 years ago


Philippa Powers
Philippa Powers2 years ago