The Unhealthy Love Affair: Sleep-Eating

If you’re no stranger to burning the midnight oil, and have wondered why you especially tend to fantasize about snacks such as french fries, cake or a bag of chips – guess what?

Sleepiness manifests as a mini stress eater, making you more vulnerable to unhealthy snacking as compared to a well-rested body that can better resist temptations.

The human body comes with its own clock or circadian rhythm, so lack of sleep actually messes up your metabolic systems. A while ago we posted on the newfound ‘Social Jetlag’, the irregular sleep clock that leads to weight gain and even obesity. And now, two other studies have further associated sleepiness with overeating.

A study by Columbia University in New York deduced that sleep-deprivation affects the way the brain responds to reward – in this case – junk food. After studying and scanning the brains of 25 adults over a period of five nights of either adequate, or little sleep, it was found that the brain networks associated with reward were more active among the sleepy than the rested.

The scans burned brighter when they were shown photographs of pizza and cake compared to, say, fruit and vegetables. The study deduced that tired bodies may be yearning high-calorie foods to survive the day and that short-sleep patterns do play a role in appetite-modulation and obesity.

Another study by University of California, Berkeley discovered that sleepiness also tampers with the higher-order functions of the brain that prompts complex decision-makings, making that leftover slice of pudding irresistible to sleepyheads.

In the study, MRI scans of 23 healthy adults who were put through adequate sleep or zero sleep measured their reactions as they were presented with various food items. Interestingly, the results showed that sleep-deprivation impaired the region that guides complex decision-making, deterring the brain from making smarter decisions.

Although the two studies produced different findings, one thing is clear – like blind love, sleep deprivation makes your brain grow weak at the knees at the thought of junk food, similar to the heartbreaker all your friends are telling you to steer clear of.

Oh, and one more thing – stock up on healthy snacks to make a great power juice instead of reaching for a quick sugar fix.

What unhealthy foods do you find yourself craving for in the middle of the night or after you’ve had little sleep? If you’re experiencing weight problems or bad eating habits, could that be a result of sleep-deprivation? How are you managing your sleep?