Fatigue (Tired) Eating

Steph Wagner MS, RDN

March 16, 2022

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Why do we eat when we are tired? What is the deal with fatigue eating?

Click below to listen to this blog!

I (Steph) am a fatigue (tired) eater

If I had filled out my own survey about what emotion most drives you to eat, mine would for SURE have been tired or fatigued.

In my video course I make the joke (but not really a joke) that I don’t know how many sleeves of graham crackers I ate when my kids were babies and waking me up all night. I don’t know because I was half asleep and running through them! Eventually they had to go on a ‘do not buy’ list.

I was particularly interest in this topic. Why, when I am incredibly tired and need nothing more than a nap, do I instead eat? And so mindlessly?

Poor sleep is widely researched as a factor that contributes to obesity. It’s important to talk about sleep and take inventory on sleep habits when it comes to weight management.



A few reasons for fatigue eating

It seems there are multiple reasons why the brain sends us messages to eat when we are tired.

For one, we might associate eating with getting energy and getting energy to stay awake. This builds a stronger connection in the brain to eat when we are tired and need to be awake.

(Yes, food is energy but it doesn’t replace rest!)

Another reason may be that we are less active if we are tired. Being active helps raise dopamine, release endorphins, and curbs appetite.

And another reason is hydration. We may head towards more caffeinated drinks to keep us going but may not be as beneficial to our hydration as water. Being low on water will also make you feel more run down.

There are plenty of studies that suggest willpower dwindles as we make decisions through the day and from the physical fatigue of the day. This also makes sense to me. I am not ambitious about much past 8pm. Willpower dwindles through the day.





But some surprising other reasons why we may fatigue eat

The reasons listed above were likely what I would have guessed and yet there are a couple additional reasons for tired eating that are further into our biology.

Studies have found ghrelin, the hunger hormone, tends to increase with lack of sleep. Study participants who slept less than 4.5 hours a night consumed as much as 20% more calories a day.

Another really interesting bit of research was found at the University of Chicago. Researchers looked into the endocannabinoid system (ECS). You may notice the word ‘cannabis’ in the root of that word endocannibinoid. The ECS is a natural system in the body that includes enzymes, cannabinoid receptors and endocannabinoids. This discovery is relatively new, the first findings were in the early 1990s. Research suggests that the ECS helps regulate and balance key body functions including energy balance, appetite stimulation, blood pressure, pain and more.  

The University of Chicago researchers conducted a small study looking at a certain endocannabinoid and testing blood levels throughout the day. Some days the subjects had slept a full night and other days, they slept just 4 ½ hours. In short, their findings suggested sleep deprived people have an overactive endocannabinoid driving  hunger. When the study participants had slept just 4.5 hours, they had higher peaks of the endocannabinoid levels, specifically around 2pm and 9pm.  When you think about cannabis driving hunger or “munchies” this might give us a visual for an overactive endocannabinoid system when we are under slept.

Also, when we are under slept, our body is in a more stressed state. Studies have shown higher levels of cortisol with sleep deprivation. We have talked a lot of cortisol throughout all of these blogs on emotional eating.




For all these reasons, we fatigue (tired) eat

Of all the emotions I have covered this far, it seems feeling tired (possibly not an emotion but we all feel it) has the largest assortment of reasons why we do it.

Tired from stress may mean there is cortisol in the picture. Tired from lack of sleep might mean spikes in this endocannabinoid that I just learned about PLUS higher amounts of ghrelin. Yay.

So the question here is “why am I tired?” so that you can know what to do about it. 

Maybe you need more water because you’re feeling fatigued from dehydration.

Maybe you need to go to bed early tonight.

Maybe you need to engage your parasympathetic nervous system to feel more calm and in a restful state (read more about this on the stress eating blog).




Stay tuned, last up we’ll talk about female cycles

We have covered a lot of ground! This emotional eating blog series is a tidbit of the information I’ve covered for members during our Winter Get Focused Challenge. (Scroll to the bottom for links to all the emotions covered so far)

This information will be released in a video course format and made available to members.


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Emotions Covered on Previous Blog Posts:

The Two Systems that Influence Eating (Series Intro)

Bored Eating

Stress Eating

Sad/Depressed/Lonely Eating

Anxious Eating


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