If you are like many people, you may have committed to losing weight when setting your New Year’s resolution. Maybe you plan on doing so by getting more exercise, or by eating better. But a new study shows a different resolution may help put you on the fast track towards a healthier weight. Although diet and exercise are essential components to weight loss, regularly getting a great night's sleep has been proven to influence food choices.
The study authored by Jan Peters, a professor of biological psychology at the University of Cologne in Germany, suggests that even one night of poor sleep increases the desirability of junk foods. The implication drawn from previous studies was that ghrelin (the hunger hormone) is responsible for poor food choices. This new study suggests that view may be too simplistic.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in three Americans don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis. In addition to influencing healthy food choices getting less than seven hours each night is linked to increased risk for stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. According to Peters “Our results now show a neural mechanism that may contribute to the association between reduced sleep and weight gain.”
During the study, Peters and his team took blood samples from 32 participants. Researchers also performed a functional MRI on testing subjects. MRIs and blood samples were taken after participants had gotten a regular night's rest at home and again after they were kept awake for the night under laboratory conditions. All participants were healthy young men of a normal weight who were self-reported non-smokers. On both nights participants were fed a standardized dinner to protect the integrity of the test.
After both nights, during the morning, test subjects were asked to participate in a decision-making task. During the task, participants were asked to choose between junk food items and non-food trinkets. Although participants reported similar hunger levels after both nights, in the mornings following nights of sleeplessness participants were more willing to choose the junk food item than the non-food items.
Brains of the participants showed increased activity in the pleasure centers of the brain when exposed to junk food after a night of sleeplessness indicating a higher rate of desirability in the sleep-deprived state.
Although the study is unable to determine cause-and-effect, it still benefits the community in a few ways. For one, the study is helpful in educating people about sleep deprivation and how it can influence other health-related behaviors. It also places some of that responsibility for poor food choices in the laps of those who are sleep deprived.
In the above video, Dr. Saputo discusses a similar study, from the University of California Berkeley, and their findings which corroborate the findings in the study conducted by Peters.
Sources: The Journal of Neuroscience