A study from the University of California, Berkeley, shows that not only does loss of sleep trigger the nibbles, it also steers your brain in the direction of poor food choices. Many of us intuitively know this, but seeing the science behind it can help us become more serious in correcting sleep issues before they take too much of a toll on our health.
The researchers recruited 23 adults to participate in their study. The first time the participants came to the research lab they slept for about eight hours. Then they had brain scans with a functional MRI (fMRI) that let the researchers see what was going on in their subjects’ brains while they were looking at pictures of 80 food items, some low-cal and some high in calories. The volunteers were asked to rank how much they wanted each item – at that moment – on a scale of one to four.
A week later, the study subjects came back to the lab for another sleepover. This time, they were kept awake. The result? Sleeplessness changed activity in brain areas where we decide what foods we want. When the investigators looked at the preferences via fMRI, they saw that the foods setting off the brain activity were high-calorie burgers, pizza and donuts instead of the strawberries, apples and carrots chosen when their subjects had a good night’s sleep.
Not only does too little sleep lead to poor food choices, it seems to be fueling the obesity epidemic. Research from the University of Pennsylvania found that adults who agreed to spend two weeks in the sleep lab and were forced to stay up late consumed 30 percent more calories and gained about eight times the weight (average: 2.13 vs. 0.24 pounds) during the study as individuals allowed 10-12 hours of sleep during the study. Most of the snacking that led to weight gain took place between 10 pm to 4 am and consisted of a higher percentage of fatty foods than the volunteers were served at mealtime.
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