A bad night’s sleep can actually make people less resistant to unhealthy foods, and even though it results in more pleasure from digging or getting that last scoop of chunky monkeys, it’s not all that good for you.
In a study, researchers have actually scanned people’s brains while they’re looking at picture of food. The “reward center” in sleep deprived individuals lit up more when they were looking at pictures of unhealthy food as compared to healthy food, and it also lit up more than the “reward center” of well-rested people who were looking at unhealthy foods.
"Our data strongly suggests that if you're trying to control your weight, being sleep-deprived is not good for you," said study researcher Marie-Pierre St-Onge of the New York Obesity Researcher Center.
In St-Onge’s study that included 25 participants of normal weight spent nights in a lab, alternating between getting a good solid 9 hours of sleep and a gruesome 4 hours.
Participants were shown pictures of food typically perceived as being healthy like vegetables, fruits and oatmeal as well as unhealthy food such as doughnuts, pizza and candy.
Researchers found that when allowed to choose their own food, people ate about 300 more calories per day, on average after a night of four hours of sleep.
In the other study, 16 participants were observed after obtaining either a full night's sleep or after staying awake for 24 hours. Participants were shown pictures of food and asked to rate their desire for food.
The sleep-deprived people said they were more interested in unhealthy food, and brain scans also showed reduction in the frontal lobe and other regions associated with complex decision-making brain activity.
"When you're sleep-deprived, you might not make appropriate food choices," said study researcher Stephanie Greer, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley. The brain can no longer convince itself that healthy food is the right choice due to the health benefits, and instead it focuses on taste, the researchers said.
This study wasn’t looking at actual decisions people make about eating. However, the idea that people would act upon their desires to eat unhealthy food is a “realistic possibility” said Michael Walker, a sleep psychologist at UC Berkeley.
The results of further studies are in line with previous work, but go beyond what is known to show how the brain reacts to sleep deprivation, says epidemiologist James Gangwisch of Columbia University, who was not involved in the research.
Gangwisch suggested the link between getting some sleep and eating has its roots in evolutionary biology: human ancestors slept less during the summer months, when they had to eat to fatten up for the winter.
Now "we're fattening up, year round, for a wintertime that never comes," he said.
Research has shown many times that sleep is critical to helping the brain make healthy choices, Wall said.
"I think people are always surprised that sleep isn't just a dormant state, but performs a lot of functions," he said.
So, as a foodie what’s your sleeping recipe? Tell the Sleep Doctor here at Nest Bedding.