Sleep Deprived People Develop Stronger Craving for Junk Food

As per the recent research published in the Journal of Neuroscience, sleep deprivation and junk food consumption are highly linked with each other. Sleep deprived people develop a much stronger craving for junk food than their rested buddies.

There are some previous studies which support the idea of increasing waistlines due to sleep deprivation. Here a major role is played by the change in hormone levels.

Change in levels of hormones due to disrupted sleep acts as one of the main determinants in determining the hunger of a person. However the recent research states otherwise, that is the main determinant could be the intercommunication within or between the reward recognition systems in the brain.

The study design is carefully described by Professor Jan Peters and his team members from the University of Cologne in the research.

They chose 32 healthy men, age ranging from 19 to 33. All the participants were given the same meal. The meal consisted of pasta, strawberry yogurt, apple, and veal. Sleep duration of participants was tracked by using a sleep tracking device. They were either kept awake all night in the laboratory or were sent back home with a sleep tracking device.

Next morning, all the participants marked their attendance with their appetite rating. Among 32, 29 of the participants were also asked to get their blood sugar and stress-related hormones measured.

For carrying out a further investigation, they tested their level of hunger by asking their willingness to pay for 24 snacks and 24 inedible foods in a range of €0 to €3. They now reformatted their question and asked what if the prices would be fixed? Will they buy the food or not? The researchers studied the participants’ brain activity by using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) upon seeing the food.

The process was repeated weekly on alternate basis between sleep deprived people and people who were allowed to sleep.

As per the results of fMRI, participants’ brain activity in the amygdala was at its peak when they saw different food images. While among the sleep-deprived people a stronger link between the fixed price of the food and activity of hypothalamus was found.

Prof Jan Peter and his members found that the brain’s activity on seeing food images just not only depends on hormones. In response to food images, there was no change in the level of des-acyl ghrelin hormone and in other regions of the brain, while keeping in mind that no behavioral changes were also observed.

A neuroscientist, Christian Benedict at Uppsala University in Sweden who was not involved in the study commented that brain of sleep-deprived people consumes more energy than others. This is due to the fact that the brain uses the body energy to increase food craving than wasting it on controlling the impulses.

Christian Benedict said it is important to remember that it is not only the sleep factor which can affect your body weight, but there are also other factors too. “It is not only about sleep. Physical activity matters, dietary things, food, and accessibility. So we should not break it down only to sleep.”

The study also had some limitations as blood testing was not done during the stage of viewing food images and fMRI imaging. Another limitation of the study was that it did not note down the responses of participants to healthy food.

Adeena Tariq

Adeena's professional life has been mostly in hospital management, while studying international business in college. Of course, she now covers topics for us in health.

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