Study: Sleep Deprivation May Lead to Bad Eating Habits

By: Jenna Savage

We recently reported on a study that linked sugary diets with slow learning and poor retention. Now, however, new studies have indicated that there may be a cause behind our yearnings for sweets and other foods that have poor nutritional value — sleep deprivation.

Two related studies were presented at Sleep 2012, a conference dedicated to research about sleep. The first study consisted of 18 healthy adults, who were monitored using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans. The study showed that being sleep deprived triggers emotional dysfunction within the brain. The less sleep a personal has, the more vulnerable they are to feeling emotional and to engaging in emotional behaviors, reports the UC Berkeley News Center.

Not only does feeling tired and anxious interfere with an individual’s ability to learn, but many individuals also suffer from emotional eating — eating in response to how they are feeling, rather than out of hunger. This could be exasperated by a lack of sleep and heightened sense of anxiety.

The second study also used fMRI scans, this time monitoring 23 young adults. Their brains were examined after a good night’s sleep, and then again after a night without sleep. Researchers showed food items to the participants and had them rate how much they wanted to eat the food, while the scans monitored the thought processes taking place.

Imaging showed that when a brain goes without proper rest, frontal lobe activity is inhibited. As the frontal lobe is responsible for controlling behavior and making decisions, individuals under sleep deprivation are more prone to making bad food choices. The results suggest that it is more difficult to choose healthy foods when sleep deprived, as the complex thought processes that go through decision-making are impaired.

As a result, students are warned against staying up too late to study for exams — or, worse, pulling all-nighters. Getting a good night’s sleep will not only keep you fresh and emotionally in charge, but it will also help you make better decisions about the foods you put into your body. That way, you can lay off the sugar and instead focus on getting the nutrition that will help you become a better learner with a better memory.