How Sleep Affects Eating

How Sleep Affects Eating

Get Deeper Sleep For A Better Body

It’s well established that lack of sleep affects eating and weight gain. A new study tells us why.

Getting pleasure out of eating seems like a reasonable source of enjoyment, but it appears that lack of sleep makes us oversensitive to rewarding, pleasurable food. A new study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism compared brain activity in response to food images in individuals who were either sleep deprived or rested.

Participants were normal-weight men who participated in two trials. First, they were kept up all night and completely deprived of sleep. In the morning, MRI brain scans were performed to identify what part of the brain responded to pictures of low- and high-calorie foods. In the second trial, participants had a normal night’s sleep and performed the same brain scan and food picture ratings.

When sleep deprived, participants had significantly greater activation in the right frontal brain cortex in response to food images than when they were rested. They also reported significantly greater hunger than when they had slept and preferred high-calorie foods to a greater degree.

Researchers suggest this is because high-calorie foods are seen as a reward. Being tired leads to a greater “reward response in anticipation of food.” We feel low energy and unwell when we are exhausted. Unhealthy foods are more appealing to “ease the pain.” When rested, our appetites respond to the need to eat to sustain energy levels rather than as a pleasurable or rewarding experiences.

The solution is to get enough sleep to avoid this eating trap. Be aware of how your eating habits respond to being tired. Make sure that you have a set time to go to bed every night, even on weekends. A previous study showed that individuals with an early recurrent bedtime (hitting the sack at 8 or 9 pm rather than 11 or 12 pm) ate fewer total calories daily and had a better macronutrient profile with more protein and fewer high fat, sweet foods.

Early-to-bed/early-to-rise sleep habits are linked to a better body composition in adolescents too. Using food as a reward or for pleasure when tired may be a behavior that is conditioned from childhood, putting individuals who lack sleep and go to bed late at greater risk for obesity and problems with diet throughout life.

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