Why a Drowsy Brain Chooses Unhealthy Foods

By , Category : Brain Function

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Drowsy BrainNutrition, a healthful diet, begins with choice. It is based on curbing unhealthy food cravings and electing to eat right, eat colorfully and eat less. A brand new bit of health news has come out of the SLEEP 2012 conference showing that just how much eating well can be in our head. An exhausted brain isn’t capable of choosing food wisely.

MRI scans have revealed that sleep deprivation impairs the higher-order regions in the human brain, where food choices are made. This may help explain the link between sleep loss and obesity. In the new study, the sight of unhealthy food during a period of sleep restriction activated “reward centers” in the brain that are less active when sleep is sound. The impulse to choose the bad foods becomes beyond debate.

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Twenty-three healthy adults participated in two sessions, one after a normal night’s sleep and a second after a night of sleep deprivation. In both, they rated how much they wanted various food items shown to them. The goal: to see if regions of the brain that govern food processing were disrupted.

It turned out, sleep deprivation significantly impaired brain activity in the frontal lobe. This section of the brain controls behavior and makes complex choices, such as what food the body wants. Sleep loss may prevent the higher brain functions from making appropriate food choices. They simply failed to use various signals that normally help guide us to make wise choices about
nutrition.

The same brain regions activated when unhealthy foods were presented were not involved when the participants saw healthy foods. Thus, as amazing as it might seem, the unhealthy food response was a pattern in the brain specific to sleep problems.

It is clear then that ensuring a good night’s sleep will help those who are desperately trying to stick to a diet. For those who want to shed pounds, manage diabetes, lower cholesterol, reduce high blood pressure, and all the other things that we can do through proper nutrition, do not take sleep for granted.

Because what happens in the nighttime is going to truly impact what happens during the day. Want to eat less sugar, salt and fat? Practice sleeping habits that don’t permit insomnia to hang around.


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