The Sleep or Eat Phenomenon


Sleep deprivation and I are far from strangers. I’ve worked full time nights for the past three years with a crazy seven night on/seven night off work schedule. Usually when I tell people about this schedule they focus on the positive commenting on how great it would be to have a “whole week off work.” It is pretty nice…but there is always a trade off.
In this case it’s the “week on” work.
If you haven’t worked nights or had to be awake all night and sleeping during the day you really cannot understand how challenging this is. Getting 7 or 8 hours of sleep during the day is just not as restful as the same amount at night. And let’s face it, the likelihood of getting seven or eight hours of daytime sleep is very low. Everyone else is awake and all those mundane little tasks you have to do for daily life, well, most of them must be done during the day. Plus, daylight.
That bastard the sun makes it quite the challenge to sleep during the day. I’m always happy when I get done working and see that it’s a grey, dull day.
One of the things I noticed when I started working nights was that I was hungry ALL NIGHT LONG. Seriously, the whole night.
It was like my body was saying “Hey, if you’re not going to sleep you better eat.”
I call this the Sleep or Eat Phenomenon.

Even after I got used to keeping myself awake through the night this phenomenon persisted. It was especially prominent the first night or two of the week back on work when I’d be readjusting to a nocturnal schedule or when life prevented me from getting more than a few hours of sleep during the day. Maybe you’re thinking about all the times you were very very tired and just wanted to eat out of habit. This is not the same thing, it is an actual feeling of hunger. Real hungry hunger.
I thought maybe it was the body’s way of trying to get enough energy when deprived of sleep. Kind of like gas in a car, if it’s running for longer it needs more gas.
As it turns out, that is not the case.
The “Sleep or Eat Phenomenon” is a real, actual, scientific thing.

One of the topics in my online Intro to Psychology class this week is sleep and how it effects the brain. the professor posted a bunch of links to various articles about sleep deprivation and how harmful it is. About half way through this 60 Minutes video they start talking about the health problems that sleep deprivation causes including diabetes.
That’s right, sleep deprivation contributes to diabetes (if you want to learn more about this follow the above link and go to 13:41 minutes on the video).
As if being ridiculously tired and trying to function wasn’t bad enough already? Now we have diabetes to worry about too.
Basically there’s a hormone that controls feelings of hunger. When you’re sleep deprived production of this hormone slows way down resulting in feeling hungry…a lot.
I feel validated that this whole Sleep or Eat Phenomenon is really a real thing.

Coffee: When you just don't have time to sleep.

Coffee: When you just don’t have time to sleep.

Also, if you skip to the end of that video you can see evidence that sleep deprivation interferes with male fruit flies’ desire to mate.
Now if we could just find a way to deprive all mosquitoes of sleep long enough to stop reproduction altogether….


About nights7

A metamorphosis in progress...always.

2 thoughts on “The Sleep or Eat Phenomenon

  1. How interesting, I have never had to work nights so have not had this experience but I imagine it is very difficult to sleep during the day.


    • nights7 says:

      The whole backwards schedule is tough. Forcing yourself to be awake all night then trying to sleep during the day pretty much goes against everything your body is programmed to do. That being said, sometimes it’s what works in your life and you do what you have to do.


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