Two studies have found sleep deprivation might contribute to obesity, according to The Telegraph. Both studies focused on how sleep deprivation affects food choices. The results of the research were presented Sunday at the SLEEP 2012 conference held by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society.
What are the details of the studies?
The first study by researchers working through Columbia University, split 25 normal weight men and women into two groups, then studied how they reacted to pictures of foods after being sleep-deprived or being allowed to oversleep. The second study by researchers working through the University of California looked at how 23 normal-weight men and women responded to pictures of foods each morning after being alternately sleep-deprived and well-rested over a succession of nights, according to The Atlantic.
What did the two studies find?
The findings were twofold, according to CNN. The Columbia study found certain areas of the brain were more easily stimulated by photographs of unhealthy foods after sleep deprivation than they were if the person was well-rested. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging exams, the researchers observed the areas of the brain that control craving and reward were more active after a night of too-little sleep if the person was shown pictures of unhealthy foods instead of healthy foods. The UC study found people who were sleep-deprived not only showed more interest in unhealthy foods fMRI scanning showed the parts of the brain that control decision-making were functioning at a lower level after a night the participants got less sleep.
What were the conclusions?
The results of the Columbia study led researchers to theorize people who get less than the recommended amount of sleep might subconsciously seek unhealthy foods because their bodies are telling them they need the energy boost provided by more high-calorie choices. The UC study theorized people make poor food choices after being sleep-deprived because their decision-making process is adversely affected.
What have been the criticisms regarding these results?
Researchers from both studies believe sleep deprivation might be impacting food choices overall. But the Boston Globe pointed out neither study proved a causal link between these observed changes in brains and weight gain or unhealthy eating.
Vanessa Evans is a musician and freelance writer based in Michigan, with a lifelong interest in health and nutrition issues.
- sleep deprivation
- Columbia University