Could Not Getting Enough Sleep Be Making You Crave Junk Food?

Hot and salty french fries. Cheese pizza. Mini cupcakes.

We all know how horrible junk food is for our health. So why do we eat it?

Researchers say we might not be getting enough sleep.

In fact, having a sleepless night actually affects your brain’s mechanisms, according to a new study from UC Berkeley.

Scientists scanned the brains of 23 healthy young adults after they had a good night’s sleep and again after a sleepless night. They found that the part of the brain that governs complex decision-making was impaired after the sleepless night. Additionally, there was increased activity in the parts of the brain that respond to rewards, according to a news release from the University of California – Berkeley.

“What we have discovered is that high-level brain regions required for complex judgments and decisions become blunted by a lack of sleep, while more primal brain structures that control motivation and desire are amplified,” said Matthew Walker, the study’s senior author of the study published in the journal Nature Communications.

“High-calorie foods also became significantly more desirable when participants were sleep-deprived. This combination of altered brain activity and decision-making may help explain why people who sleep less also tend to be overweight or obese.”

The study follows previous research which has linked poor sleep to greater appetites.  But this study explains how a specific brain mechanism leads people to make poor food choices after losing sleep.

In the study, participants preferred hamburgers, pizza and doughnuts to fresh fruit and vegetables.

Walker, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology and neuroscience said there is a positive aspect to the study: “Getting enough sleep is one factor that can help promote weight control by priming the brain mechanisms governing appropriate food choices.”

Source: University of California – Berkeley news release

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