Yawn. When you haven't had enough sleep, you're more likely to crave unhealthy food such as sugary treats and salty, greasy chips. That was the finding of a study presented on June 10th at the Associated Professional Sleep Societies annual meeting in Boston.
HealthDay quotes researcher Marie-Pierre St-Onge of St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital Center and Columbia University's Institute of Human Nutrition in New York City as saying, "We found regions associated with reward and motivation -- those that are involved with addiction and pleasure-seeking behaviors -- were more strongly activated in the short-sleep phase."
She was referring to the first phase of her study when the 25 subjects were restricted to four hours of sleep for five nights in a row. Then they underwent MRI scans during which they were shown pictures of a variety of food including fruits and veggies and pizza and candy, as well as nonfood items such as office supplies. The scans showed that the junk food images activated reward centers in the brain.
Next, the participants were permitted to sleep nine hours for five nights in a row, and again they had MRI scans. This time the poor food choices did not activate the brain's reward centers.
"I think it's related to cognitive control," St-Onge told HealthDay. "Your guard is somewhat down when you're tired and sleep deprived. Even though you know you probably shouldn't eat certain foods, when you're tired you might just decide to go for it."
Because this study was presented at a meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal. Even so, this research gives you one more reason to aim for sound and restful sleep for seven to nine hours a night.