More reason to get enough sleep at night. The first of a pair of studies presented at the Associated Professional Sleep Societies 2012 meeting suggests that eating junk food is more appealing to those who haven’t gotten the sleep they need. Isn’t that all of us these days? If you’re also trying to lose weight, understanding your cravings for the sweet stuff might help you avoid it more effectively.
This research included 25 normal weight adults who had undergone MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans on five nights of only four hours sleep per night, then again after five nights where they were allowed to sleep 9 hours. While in the scanner, they saw photos of healthy foods, unhealthy foods and non-food related images like office supplies.
When the team looked at the areas of the brain that are most active when you see healthy (or unhealthy) foods, they saw that the reward centers of the brain were activated when a sleep deprived subject saw photos of unhealthy, but tasty food choices.
When the same subject was well rested, the image didn’t trigger any such activation in the reward center. Regions associated with both reward and motivation (the ones involved with addiction and pleasure seeking) were strongly active in the subjects’ brains.
Think about it, you’re guard is down when you’re tired, in need of sleep. You know eating certain foods isn’t a good choice, but you’re in no shape to deny yourself anything. You decide to go for it, and worry about the consequences later.
The second study, smaller, was also presented at the Sleep 2012 annual meeting. Though this work didn’t find a large activation of the brain’s reward areas in those who were feeling tired, the team from the University of California, Berkeley found significantly impaired activity in a part of the frontal lobe of the brain, the part of the brain helps control behavior and aids in the making of complicated choices.
When subjects were deprived of sleep and then shown visuals of unhealthy food options, this part of the brain didn’t react well. This would make choosing healthy options (or resisting unhealthy ones), especially when those unhealthy ones are readily available, a difficult thing to manage, as most of us are all too aware.
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Study: Why Junk Food Appeals Even More When You’re Sleepy… Continued…
This work involved just 16 healthy volunteers who underwent functional MRI magnetic resonance imaging scans of the brain after a full night sleep, and again after a full 24 hours of sleep deprivation. The participants had to rate their desire for 80 different foods during each phase of the test.
According to dietician Samantha Heller, the clinical nutrition coordinator at the Center for Cancer Care at Griffin Hospital who was not involved in either study, it makes sense that when you’re tired, you body might want foods with lots of calories for that quick burst of energy. There may be some evolutionary benefit to doing this.
Rather than going for the energy boost by eating junk food, try something simple and healthy instead. Fruit is always a tasty, nutritious choice.