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Too Little Sleep Linked to Junk Food Cravings

While previous studies have found a link between not sleeping and craving sweet and salty foods, the exact mechanism behind that phenomenon was unknown until now. A recent study has shown that poor sleep actually reduces the ability to perform complex decision-making while simultaneously increases activity in the part of the brain that responds to rewards, thereby increasing our desire for junk food.

Participants in the study included 23 young adults. The researchers conducted MRI scans on the participant’s brains after a normal night’s sleep and after a sleepless night. They found that the part of the brain responsible for complex decision-making (the frontal lobe) was functioning at a lower level, while the parts of the brain that control motivation and desire were functioning higher.

The researchers also showed the participants images of 80 different foods and asked the participants to rate them based on desirability. After the sleepless night, the participants were more likely to rate high calorie junk food such as pizza and doughnuts as more highly desirable than low calorie foods such as fruits and vegetables.

Researchers from the University of California at Berkeley conducted the study. It was published in the August 2013 issue of Nature Communications.

Many other factors contribute to weight gain, such as lifestyle, exercise, and diet. However, getting a good night’s sleep may help promote weight control by giving the brain the rest it needs to help make appropriate food choices.

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