Food tips to fuel an all-nighter

Food

Food tips to fuel an all-nighter

Chowbotics is moving fast, working round the clock, as the team prepares for an important launch in Dallas, TX. Not an uncommon practice, if not lifestyle for the engineer to pull all-nighters, free from distractions that come with daylight hours. It’s a lifestyle choice that works well for some and one that many engineers wouldn’t give up, especially since many are able to make up for sleep they’ve lost with flexible work schedules. For the rest of us, sleep is one of the first things to go when we are faced with an endless list of to-dos, places to go and people to see. Sometimes finding enough hours in the day seems impossible.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night. Yet Americans report on average, 2 nights/week of insufficient sleep and 39.5% get 6 hours or less per day; a large minority of folks are flat-out deficient! The toll chronic sleep deprivation can take may go unnoticed, especially when it becomes the normal state of affairs,   but it has consequences. From the benign (difficulty focusing and increased error rates) to the more serious (machine and car accidents). The negative impacts to health are well-known, increasing risk for chronic health problems like heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.

The question – should sleep be considered a vital sign of health? – (along with heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature) has been posed, and for good reason. A solid night of sleep not only helps us be productive, healthier and happier humans, it’s at the core of our other self-care practices. On 4 hours of sleep, who’s got energy for the gym and who’s staying alert (or awake!) during meditation (if practicing at all). Our body seeks to get its needs met in any way it can, both by inducing sleepiness and conserving energy.  

And without enough sleep, who is making good food choices, especially when the body is sending strong signals to do exactly otherwise! Lack of sleep is linked with significant changes in key satiety hormones that trigger hunger (ghrelin) and induce fullness (leptin). One study of over 1,000 volunteers found that less than 8 hours of sleep was associated with 14.9% higher ghrelin levels and 15.5% lower levels of leptin. This means sleep deprivation makes us more hungry and when we do get food, are more likely to eat too much of it.  (And despite our best intentions, we aren’t grabbing fresh salads). Our body is forcibly seeking out simple carbs (sweets, candy and processed starches) so the brain and body can get a quick fuel-fix. When this practice becomes chronic, health problems ensue.

Sleep is critical and ought to be a priority. While the best strategy is to avoid pulling the all-nighter, I’ll share the same tips I shared with the Chowbotics team on fueling for one – because, yep, they happen.

  1. Ramp up the protein: a higher protein meal will help to gradually decrease ghrelin (hunger) and keep it at a lower baseline (compared to a higher carb meal) which will initially reduce ghrelin but rebound to higher levels.   
  2. Incorporate some healthy fats: they have the double-benefit of reducing hunger (ghrelin), while promoting satiety (leptin).  
  3. Do #1 and #2 to help you do #3 – skip the sweets: limit added sugars and starches from processed foods, sweets and sugary drinks. They will cause worse energy crashes and re-bound higher leptin levels.
  4. Stay well hydrated: dehydration will only make the effects of lack of sleep (fatigue, difficulty with focus and concentration) and food cravings worse. Moderate caffeine may be helpful for alertness, but the subsequent crash can make things worse so best to limit – especially if you’re planning on small naps throughout the night.
  5. Get moving: be sure to move around a bit to get blood circulating. Movement will help maintain alertness and ward off fatigue.  

So naturally, what did I recommend for our all-night-pulling engineers and anyone else battling the effects of a sleepless night? Well a Sally Salad of course (available in abundant supply at HQ). A terrific option for lean protein, healthy fats and water-packed ingredients.  Your body might not naturally crave these things when it’s sleep deprived, but it will pay you back in resilience, better energy, focus and health in the short and long term.