Sleep Deprivation Creates Junk Food Cravings

First Posted: Aug 06, 2013 02:59 PM EDT

These days, whether it's due to late night television, too much work, or kids that won't go to sleep, no one seems to be able to get the necessary rest they need to feel functional at their job.  And whether we just find ourselves staying awake for no reason searching the internet looking at Pottery Barn or watching old Nick at Nite episodes, this can, unfortunately, trigger late night food cravings that may result in unhealthy fast food binghes.

According to a recent study by researchers at UC Berkeley, they used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the brains of 23 healthy young adults the first night after a normal night's sleep and the next after a sleepless night. They found that there were signs of impaired activity in the sleep-deprived brain's frontal lobe, which governs complex decision-making but also increases activity in the deeper brain centers that respond to rewards. They found that the participants tended to favor unhealthy choices when they were sleep deprived.

"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," said Matthew Walker, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology and neuroscience and senior author of the study, via a press release.

Moreover, he added, via the release, that "high-calorie foods also became significantly more desirable when participants were sleep-deprived. This combination of altered brain activity and decision-making may help explain why people who sleep less also tend to be overweight or obese."

While previous studies have linked less sleep to higher consumption of sweet and salty foods, this study actually shows the specific brain function explaining the changes for the unhealthy eating habits during those sleepless nights.

Researchers hope more studies could help re-illustrate the importance of sleep, weight control, and healthy eating in general.

More information regarding the study can be found in the journal Nature Communications

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