Hungry? It could be lack of sleep

Hungry? It could be lack of sleep

By Liz Lockhart

Mental Healthy has reported on the psychological impact of poor or little sleep, recently reporting on the impact that shift-work has on nurses.  New Swedish research now suggests that a specific brain region which contributes to appetite is more active when a night’s sleep is lost.

Research from the Uppsala University shows that a person’s appetite sensation is heightened in response to pictures of food after just one night of sleep loss, compared to one night of normal sleep.  This, according to the researchers, can, in the long run, affect people’s risk of becoming overweight.

The research was conducted by Christian Benedict and Helgi Schioth of the Department of Neuroscience at Uppsala University. In one of their previous studies they found that a single night of complete sleep loss, in normal weight, young men, curbed the energy expenditure the following morning.  In addition the prior research showed that the participants had higher levels of hunger.  This, they suggest, indicates that an acute lack of sleep can affect a person’s food perception.

The new study had additional input from researchers Samantha Brooks and Elna-Marie Larsson from Uppsala University and researchers from other European universities.  The combined researchers have now systematically examined which regions in the brain are influenced by sleep loss which results in altered appetite sensations.

Magnetic imaging (fMRI) was used to enable the researchers to study the brains of 12 men of normal weight, whilst they looked at images of foods.  The results were then compared with fMRI images taken after a night of normal sleep.

‘After a night of total sleep loss, these males showed a high level of activation in an area of the brain that is involved in a desire to eat.  Bearing in mind that insufficient sleep is a growing problem in modern society, our results may explain why poor sleep habits can affect people’s risk to gain weight in the long run.  It may, therefore, be important to sleep about eight hours every night to maintain a stable and healthy body weight,’ explains Christian Benedict. 

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