If you’ve ever found yourself craving unhealthy snacks after a late night or resorting to a sugary pick-me-up to compensate for an early start, you’re not alone. Now, a new study has unpicked the science behind this particular bad habit.
Researchers from the Feinbery School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago have recently published a study investigating the relationship between sleep deprivation and the brain’s sensitivity to food smells, going some way to explain why over-tiredness makes us consume more unhealthy foods, leading to weight gain.
Participants who were operating on just four hours of sleep inhaled food smells such as chips and cinnamon rolls as well as non-food smells like fir trees, reports Science News, undergoing functional MRI scans while doing so.
Several weeks later, the participants repeated the same experiment after a full eight hours of sleep.
When the participants were sleep deprived, researchers noted greater activity in the piriform cortex and the orbitofrontal cortex (the areas of the brain devoted to smells) in response to the food smells than when they had had a good night’s sleep. This difference wasn’t noted in response to the non-food smells, study co-author Sarabhi Bhutani explains, thus drawing a preliminary link between tiredness and consumption of excess calories.
It seems, then, that the solution is simple: if you don’t want to de-rail your diet, make sure you’re getting an optimum amount of shut-eye.