Sleep deprivation stirs cravings for junk food–study

Lack of adequate or disturbed sleep can prompt the body to eat more claims a new study.

According to experts, people short on sleep are more inclined to gorge on unhealthy junk food which spells doom for their waistlines and predisposes them to obesity.

MRI scans on subjects displayed impairment in the brain’s frontal lobe responsible for complex decision-making while the reward centers of the brain — those that are involved with addiction and pleasure-seeking behaviors — were more strongly activated in the short-sleep phase.

Lead author of the study, Matthew Walker, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology and neuroscience stated, “What we have discovered is that high-level brain regions required for complex judgments and decisions become blunted by a lack of sleep, while more primal brain structures that control motivation and desire are amplified.”

Two part study
In a bid to understand whether lack of proper sleep makes junk food more appealing, the researchers conducted a study.They recruited 23 healthy men and women who underwent a two phase study. In the first the subjects were sleep deprived and in the second they were allowed normal sleep.

The researchers performed brain scans while the volunteers were shown 80 different images of unhealthy foods such high calorie burgers, pizza and donuts combined with healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and oatmeal. The participants were asked to rate the food items and as an incentive could choose the food they craved most following the MRI scans.

Revelations of the study
The study found brains of the subjects responded differently to images of unhealthy food after poor sleep. Areas of linked with craving were more active in sleep deprived adults when they saw images of unhealthy food, than when viewing the healthier options. Moreover they study participants chose the high calorie foods when sleep deprived than when they were well rested.

“These results shed light on how the brain becomes impaired by sleep deprivation, leading to the selection of more unhealthy foods and, ultimately, higher rates of obesity,” said Stephanie Greer, a doctoral student in Walker’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory and lead author of the paper.

The findings of the study were published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications