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Lack of Sleep Leads to Unhealthy Eating

We’ve all been there. Whether it’s working the night shift at Taco Bell or staying up to watch an all-night MacGyver marathon, eating junk food and staying up late seem to go hand-in-hand. But why is that? According to new research in sleep deprivation, there’s a reason why we reach for hamburger-flavored Doritos before apples when we’re tired (and it’s more than just being way more awesome tasting.)  Two new studies presented at a sleep researchers meeting in Boston point to a link between sleep deprivation and unhealthy eating.

Get some sleep

Researchers at Columbia University compared brain activity in 25 volunteers following a night of normal sleep (eight hours) and a night of just four hours of sleep. They scanned the brain of each volunteer using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while flashing images of both healthy foods (oatmeal, fruit vegetables) and unhealthy foods (pepperoni pizza, cake, cheeseburgers). Pleasure-seeking parts of the brain were more active when volunteers were sleep-deprived than when they were well-rested, especially when viewing unhealthy food. This points to a link between lack of sleep and increased taquito ingestion.

The other study presented in Boston was conducted by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley. Researchers asked 23 healthy young adults to rate their desire for a variety of foods while using fMRI. Compared to when they were well-rested, volunteers showed a stronger preference for unhealthy foods when they were awake for 24 hours. The fMRI also showed that the brains of the participants, when sleep-deprived, showed diminished activity in networks involved in decision-making. Researchers found that tired people may be more inclined to eat junk food because their ability to make decisions is impaired.

Have you been staying up late too often finishing term papers, playing PS3, watching porn, etc.? If so, what have you been eating? Probably not fruit smoothies and salad, huh? If you take anything from these studies it’s that you might want to consider curbing your late-night ventures. Is what you’re doing at 3 a.m. something you could just as easily do the following morning? Most people don’t stay up until all hours of the night jerking off or playing video games for the simple fact that they don’t want to be dead tired come morning. If you stay up late and don’t get enough sleep, you’ll not only be a zombie but one that craves Whoppers, gorditas and Snickers bars day and night.

But what if you can’t avoid staying up late? Whether it’s because you work third shift or you’ve got to Skype with your long distance girlfriend in Tokyo, sometimes staying up late is unavoidable. In this case, I suggest keeping a tab on what you’re eating and making an extra-conscious effort to eat healthy food. And if you’re staying up late on a constant basis, be sure to make up for it by sleeping in later, doing your best to get eight hours of sleep a night.

Don’t become an obese Twinkie-eating zombie. Get some sleep. Your “World of Warcraft” guild can wait until tomorrow.

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About John Brhel John Brhel is a freelance writer from upstate New York that enjoys picking apart life's idiosyncrasies and listening to Huey Lewis & the News.

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