While we all know that a good night’s sleep is important, new research has now linked lack of sleep to poor food choices.
So many people are now getting too little sleep due to our 24 hour lifestyles. With computers and electricity, we can literally power on right through the night – but unfortunately this has a detrimental impact on many aspects of our health.
A couple of new studies have found that when we are sleep deprived we are more likely to eat unhealthy food. Furthermore, food cravings and sleep related hunger have been shown to contribute to weight gain and obesity. People who are sleep deprived tend to snack more and consume more calories. Scientists have discovered that the hormones in control of appetite are negatively impacted by lack of sleep, but other mechanisms in our brain are also playing a role. It seems that staying up all night or even just skimping on sleep can lead a person to seek out high fat and processed foods.
Two small studies conducted by sleep researchers have found that sleep deprivation appears to increase activity in areas of the brain that seek out pleasure. It seems that these same pleasure centres are also activated by junk food. Unfortunately, tiredness can also dampen activity in other brain regions that usually serve as a brake on this type of craving.
The researchers performed functional MRI scans while showing the volunteers images of unhealthy foods interspersed with healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and oatmeal. Brain networks associated with craving and reward were more active when the participants were sleep-deprived than when they were well-rested. This was especially the case when the participants were shown the images of unhealthy foods.
The researchers postulated that when we are tired we tend to gravitate to energy dense fatty and sugary foods because our brains are seeking an extra energy boost to help our functioning. The sleep deprived brain reacts to food stimuli as though it were actually food deprived. In addition, higher-order brain functions – such as making complex choices and being able to assess the pros and cons of situations – including about what we eat – may also be compromised by a lack of sleep. The frontal lobe of the brain is the region critical to making choices that are wise and health promoting and it is also associated with our ability to imagine and visualize our dreams and desires. This was the region that was affected by sleep rather than the more primitive reward centres of the brain.
So getting a good night’s sleep will ensure you have the energy, brain function and discipline to make healthy choices and decisions in many areas of life. If we are making poor food choices based on lack of sleep, imagine how many other areas of our life are impacted and how many decisions that we make that are potentially effected by insufficient sleep!
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