Neglecting Your Sleep Habits May Lead to Unhealthy Food Cravings

By Emily Murray

No matter where we are or what we do, we are exposed to different promises of weight loss or fitness whether we notice them or not. At the office we see ads on our computers, on the commute home we hear commercials and when we watch the news in the evening there are always messages about weight loss. So here is one that might be a bit more palatable (pun intended), be sure you get enough sleep.

Now that’s not to say this will aid in weight loss, but perhaps it will keep you from packing on additional weight. At least this is the theory behind two studies that were recently presented at the SLEEP Medicine Conference in Boston, Massachusetts, this week. It appears that a lack of sleep can lead to problems in appetite which actually stem from signals coming from the frontal lobe areas of the brain. These are responsible for making healthy decisions when it comes to food and when not enough sleep is obtained, this area of the brain cannot work properly.

As described in Forbes, one of the studies mentioned at the conference observed 16 adults with no known health problems. These participants ranged in age from 18 to 25 and researchers evaluated their brain function with MRIs after a normal night’s sleep as well as after a night of sleep deprivation to see what changes would occur. Additionally they had each person rate their interest level in 80 different types of food after both the full night’s rest and the sleep deprivation night.

When sleep was deprived, there was actually a change to the signals in the frontal lobe area and it is believed that these disruptions may lead to poor decision making when it comes to choosing food since when sleep deprived, unhealthy foods seemed more appealing.

The second study came from Columbia University and also found similar results regarding sleep patterns and food choice but in a slightly different way. These researchers also used MRIs to study subjects brain on a full night’s sleep as well as a night of not enough sleep. This time the reward portion of the brain was studied as it responded to images of different types of food. When the sleep deprived participants saw junk food, their reward centers were more active than they had been after a full night’s rest.

While there is likely more research to come on the topic in the future, these studies serve as yet another reminder that sleep is necessary for maintaining proper health. The amount of medical problems, both physical and mental, that can come from neglecting sleep are not worth the risks of skipping out on sleep.