Losing shut eye may increase sensitivity to food stimuli

Does that massive bagel look appealing this morning despite your dedication to healthy choices? It could be because you’re losing sleep that you feel hungrier than usual.

Not getting the recommended hours of sleep each night leads to increased activation in brain areas associated with regulating hunger and making decisions, says a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Food stimuli increased regional brain activity in areas associated with motivation, decision-making, and self-control.

“Our data thus suggest that restricting sleep alters neuronal activity, which predisposes individuals to enhanced susceptibility to food stimuli and may partly explain the relation observed between sleep duration and BMI,” the study found.

Of particular interest in the study was the finding that in comparing habitual to restricted sleep results, restricted sleep condition showed significantly higher “activation in the insula, involved in processing interoceptive signals such as hunger,” and in “the lentiform nucleus, putamen, and nucleus accumbens –associated with emotional responses to stimuli and motivation and reward systems.”

Researchers recruited 30 participants (26 completed), women and men, of a healthy weight to take part in a two phase study, each six days long, where they were randomly assigned to either a restricted sleep condition (four hours a night) or a habitual sleep condition (nine hours a night).

During the first five days of the study participants had a controlled diet, thereafter they ate as desired. They also had access to gym equipment during the entire study.

On day six, participants had Functional Magnetic Resonsance Imaging (fMRI) scans done while being shown images of food and nonfood items.

Another interesting find was “after a period of restricted sleep, the neuronal pattern was similar to one that would be in place when the body is at lower body weight and aiming to restore initial body weight.”

Restricting sleep may leave you prone to respond more to food stimuli and possibly gain weight due to increased activation in the brain in response to food. The results conclude that the brain scans may indicate increased inclination to seek food for people who are not getting enough sleep.

An irregular sleeping pattern can wreak havoc on your body by not only leaving you feeling more tired, but by leading your brain to respond to food even if you are not hungry.

Get your sleep. Skip the extra calories.

This study was published in the April 2012 issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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