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What to Eat When You're Exhausted


Long night? You're not the only one yawning in front of your screen. Between hectic schedules (and related stress), non-stop electronic use, and disruptions like snoring, few of us are getting the 7-8 hours we need. Despite being told time and time again that sleep is essential to overall health (logging enough hours helps maintain weight and keeps you focused), nearly 30 percent of adults reported an average of less than six hours of sleep per day, according to data from the National Health Interview Survey. Add another 10 percent of Americans who struggle with chronic insomnia, and it's clear that sleep can be a struggle.

But there's one more bonus to getting enough shut-eye: It can help keep food cravings in check. Because when you don't, hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin go all out of whack. How? Leptin controls our perception of fullness, and it takes a nosedive when we're sleep-deprived. Ghrelin, on the other hand, experiences a spike. And since ghrelin regulates our perception of hunger, that means you're less in tune with feelings of fullness while your hunger cues are amped way up. Consider it the perfect recipe for caving to cravings.

Now, if you're dragging after a late night or early wake-up, it's totally normal to feel more hungry than usual or mysteriously drawn to the vending machine. But rather than white-knuckling it trying to fight those urges, stay awake and on track with healthier choices that will perk you up. These tips will help you keep it together.

Have small, frequent meals and snacks. Eating every 3-4 hours can help you maintain stable energy. Aim for a combo of protein and complex carbs with some healthy fats to lend some staying power. This is not the day to embark on an ambitious low-carb plan. Your brain needs that glucose. A few healthy meal options:

  • Oats with ground flax, blueberries, and chopped nuts
  • A slice of whole grain toast with avocado and an egg
  • Veggie omelet and whole wheat toast or side of fruit
  • Salad with chicken, mixed veggies, and lentils, dressed with oil and vinegar
  • Baked fish with sauteed greens and roasted sweet potato

And a few healthy snack ideas:

  • 1 hard-boiled egg and a piece of fruit
  • Sliced veggies and hummus or guacamole
  • A piece of fruit and a tablespoon of your favorite nut butter
  • 1/4 cup almonds or walnuts and fruit
  • 1 ounce of cheese and 1/2 cup of grapes
  • Plain Greek yogurt with cinnamon and berries

Step away from the cupcake. Processed and sugary foods and drinks won't do you any favors when it comes to improving energy. You might get a short-lived buzz from the sugar, but you'll find yourself quickly crashing shortly after. Unfortunately, we're hard-wired to crave concentrated energy sources (hello, sugar and fat), but seeking out balanced meals and snacks will get you a lot further and help you avoid the crazy rollercoaster ride. (See: How to Ditch That Sugar Habit)

Go easy on caffeine. Take it from someone who learned this one the hard way—caffeine jitters are no joke. A more moderate approach? Have a small cup (think 8 to 12 ounces) in the morning and then one more mid-morning or around lunch time if you're dragging. But cut yourself off after 2 pm. The last thing you want is to get yourself wired and make it hard to settle down for sleep that night. Instead, reach for milder alternatives that have a smaller caffeine boost, like black or green tea and matcha. (See: Coffee Isn't Actually Bad For You)

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Tired cells are thirsty cells, so give them what they need to work with. Drink water like it's your side-hustle, and add lemon or lime slices for refreshing flavor. You can also boost your intake by reaching for water-rich fruits and veggies, including watermelon, cucumber, celery, and lettuces.


Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN

Jessica Cording is a registered dietitian and wellness writer with a passion for helping others experience a happier, calmer life through drama-free healthy eating.  More →

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