Contributed by Dr. Damian Rodriguez, DHSc, MS
Sleep is one of the most important factors in overall health, and possibly the most overlooked. Epidemiological evidence supports a link between sleep and weight management, and it is believed that this is primarily due to its influence on metabolic and endocrine function, but it is now being discovered that sleep deprivation may directly influence the central brain mechanisms that govern our food desires. The most effective way to quench that craving for junk food may be to improve your sleeping habits.
In a study published in Nature Communications, the brains of 23 healthy young adults were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) after a night of normal sleep and another after interrupted sleep. What the fMRI found was that a single day of sleep deprivation resulted in significant acute inhibition of frontal lobe activity. The frontal lobe, often referred to as the frontal cortex, regulates complex cognitive functions such as problem solving, planning, selective attention, and reward response. This inhibition resulted in participants expressing increased cravings for unhealthy foods the following day.
These findings may provide some insight as to why epidemiological studies have regularly correlated sleep deprivation with higher rates of obesity. Decision-making is best accomplished when one is fully rested and when attempting to manage weight, there is no more important decision than food choice. For best results, make sure to factor adequate sleep into your healthy diet and exercise regimen.