By Heather Hamilton, PhD., LMHC, NCC, DCC | ©2022BreakThrough!
Why Do I Eat Everything in Front of Me When I’m Tired?
Fatigue can easily lead to weight gain because our appetite is in part regulated through our wake-sleep cycle. Every few years, statistics change regarding the number of hours we should sleep. The average for adults though seems to fall anywhere between 6 and 7.5 hours. Our bodies need sleep to restore optimal functioning and for most of us, our Circadian rhythm is a fairly predictable 24-hour cycle. Some of us function more efficiently early in the cycle; others hit their stride later in the day. Either way, knowing our unique rhythm of highs and lows is important to weight management.
What happens when we get tired? For most of us, our reserves of patience, tolerance, discipline, resilience, and energy are running on empty. We’re generally less aware and more likely to miss important signs and make mistakes. Humorously, an Australian study found that after 24 hours of wakefulness we’re as cognitively impaired as an individual with a Blood Alcohol Content of .15 (twice the legal limit for driving).
When We Are Tired We Should Sleep, But…
…most of us don’t. Even though we may be passively lounging while we’re watching TV, reading, or engaged in hobby work, we’re resting, but we’re not sleeping. For those of you who have completed Session 2 of Breakthrough!, this is when Brian (Mr. HPA) gets annoyed and pouts. Brian’s kind of like a teenager at times. He takes the position that if you won’t let him sleep; you have to feed him what he likes best: glucose.
Consider this: All day long, Brian ensures that with no effort we walk, talk and breathe with little conscious effort or awareness on our part. So when he’s tired he can hijack our limbs and before we know it we’ll have made a trip to the kitchen and returned to the couch with a half-dozen cookies and a glass of milk. Come on…how many times do you find yourself cupboard hopping or fridge-surfing late at night? All-day long you had the discipline to avoid temptation and now at the very worst time, you’re consuming a days’ worth of calories in minutes.
We know enough about dopamine and serotonin to know that when our reserves are depleted we’re motivated to reach for energy-dense (high fat/sugar) foods. At the same time, our ability to control how much we eat is also diminished. When we realize we’ve blown our calories through the roof do we go to bed? Some might …but for the rest of us a relapse only increases our cravings for more sugar and we reach for that second bowl of ice cream. For good reasons, learning to manage our Circadian rhythm is a key aspect of weight and appetite regulation. This is discussed in greater depth in Chapter and Session 3.