Do you crave junk food when you are sleep-deprived?

Which one do you crave after a night of 4 hours of sleep?

You have a big meeting in the morning and you didn’t sleep a wink or the kids kept you up all night sleep, what do you grab for breakfast?  Doughnuts! Studies show that most people eat and crave unhealthy food when they have had four hours or less of sleep.

In one study, researchers scanned people’s brains while the people looked at pictures of food. The “reward center” in sleep-deprived participants lit up more when they looked at unhealthy foods than at healthy foods, and also lit up more than the reward center of  well-rested people looking at unhealthy foods.

“Our data strongly suggests that if you’re trying to control your weight, being sleep-deprived is not good for you,” said study researcher Marie-Pierre St-Onge of the New York Obesity Researcher Center.  Also in the St. Onge New York study, 25 participants of normal weight spent five nights in a lab, alternating between getting nine hours of sleep, and four hours.   Researchers found that after the nights of only 4 hours of sleep the participants ate 300 calories more on average per day.

In another study, 16 participants were studied after getting a full night sleep and after staying awake for 24 hours straight.  All 16 participants were shown pictures of food and asked to rate their desire for that food.

Sleep-deprived people said they were more interested in the unhealthy foods, and brain scans also showed impaired activity in the frontal lobe and other brain regions associated with complex decision-making.

“When you’re sleep-deprived, you might not make appropriate food choices,” said study researcher Stephanie Greer, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley. The brain can no longer convince itself that a healthy food is the right choice due to the health benefits, and instead it focuses on taste, the researchers said.

These studies did not record the data on the actual food the participants ate during the study.  However, the studies show that the idea that people would act on their desires for unhealthy food is a “realistic possibility.”

So next time you are reaching for the doughnut in the morning, stop and think…did I get enough sleep?

Do you suffer from not being able to sleep?  What do you do to ensure 7-8 hours of sleep a night?  Are your kids getting enough sleep?  Remember, kids need way more sleep than adults.  Plus, having comfortable pajamas from My Baby Pajamas helps too 🙂

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