Last night, as you tossed and turned, you had a dream about all the foods you really want—but that you don’t dare go near for a multitude of reasons.
But wait! It wasn’t a dream! You had another sleepless night, and when you awoke, you craved a Krispy Kreme Carmel Chocolate Pretzel doughnut and a Papa John’s “The Works” pizza.
It’s about your brain on sleep deprivation.
Little sleep means big calories
Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) have answers. They utilized functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) for a new study on obesity. The researchers studied 23 young adults who slept well the first night—but not the second.
In the sleep-deprived group, they found “impaired activity in the brain’s frontal lobe,” the part of our brain that controls the complex decisions we make. Conversely, the deeper brain centers that respond to rewards—like guilty-pleasure foods—worked overtime.
Brain activity was measured as study participants saw 80 food images, a mixed bag of “good for you” and “bad for you” foods. The group rated how much they wanted to eat each food. Finally, as a reward—but maybe not a good one—they ate the food they most craved after their scan.
The researchers said that groggy people who hadn’t had enough sleep craved high-calorie foods, thus backing what we know about sleep-deprived people being overweight or obese. We’ve heard that one way to help control weight is “to get enough sleep,” which this latest study further substantiates.
Earlier research has suggested that when you’re too tired, obviously you may not want to exercise. Or because you’re awake longer, you have more time to eat—it’s tough, if not dangerous, to eat when you’re sleeping! Hormone disruption that occurs during sleep may also cause people who don’t sleep well to be hungrier than those who do.
Sleep for your health
Finally, sleep is your friend, according to the Dept. of Health and Human Services, and here’s why you need seven to eight hours nightly:
- You will be less likely to get sick.
- You will be more likely to stay at a healthy weight.
- You can lower your risk of high blood pressure and diabetes.
- You can boost your brainpower and your mood.
- You can think more clearly and do better in school and at work.
- You can make better decisions and avoid injuries. For example, sleepy drivers cause thousands of car crashes every year.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, talk to your healthcare professional about ways to get enough zzzzs.
And sweet dreams.