Lack of Sleep Causes Overeating
Research from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons has determined that sleep deficit creates a greater propensity to eat and produces increased brain activity related to food stimulus.
The researchers conducted their study, supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, on twenty-six healthy men and women of normal weight. They set up two groups, which crossed over between having six days of too little sleep and having six days of getting plenty of sleep. Four hours a night was considered too little sleep, while nine hours a night was considered plenty.
At the end of each six-day period, the researchers performed neuron activity scans using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The subjects were given sensory contact with food while they were in the MRI scanners, allowing researchers to track and compare their brain responses. The subjects were tested while in a fasting state to amplify the results.
The MRI scans determined that the subjects’ brain activity in regions associated with reward and pleasure was greater among those subjects who had too little sleep during the past six days.
The brain regions associated with reward – known to be activated during eating and other pleasurable activities – are the prefrontal cortex, the thalamus, the nucleus accumbens, and the insula regions. These areas all lit up with greater activity for the sleep deprived in response to food.
This study confirms other research that has shown that sleep is associated with overeating and obesity. In 2011, researchers from the New York Obesity Research Center and St Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital found that sleep deficit increased calorie intake. This study tested 15 men and 15 women who either slept for four hours or nine hours for five days straight. During the period they measured the subjects calorie intake and calorie metabolism.
They found that the sleep-deprived expended the same amount of average energy, but consumed a greater number of calories and more fats – especially saturated fats. The sleep-deprived subjects consumed about 300 more calories per day, almost 21 more grams of fat and nearly 9 more grams of saturated fat per day than the normal sleep subjects consumed.
Other studies of larger populations have found those who sleep less had greater obesity incidence. In a recent study from The Australian National University of 60,569 human subjects, women who slept less than six hours were 49% more likely to be obese and men who slept less than six hours were 36% more likely to be obese.
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St-Onge MP, Roberts AL, Chen J, Kelleman M, O’Keeffe M, RoyChoudhury A, Jones PJ. Short sleep duration increases energy intakes but does not change energy expenditure in normal-weight individuals. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Aug;94(2):410-6.
Yiengprugsawan V, Banwell C, Seubsman SA, Sleigh AC; Thai Cohort Study Team. Short sleep and obesity in a large national cohort of Thai adults. BMJ Open. 2012 Feb 3;2(1):e000561.