We’ve known for some time that lack of sleep leads us to want to eat more, but new research shows that just one night of sleep loss can increase the desirability of junk foods, even in young men of healthy weight.
Building on insights from behavioral economics and endocrinology, researchers in Germany set out to untangle the relative contribution of decision-making processes and hormones to food choices following sleep deprivation. Participants visited their laboratory for a standardized dinner on two separate nights. One group was sent home to sleep normally, while the other was kept at the lab and deprived of sleep. Their desire for snack foods, brain activity, and hormone levels were assessed each morning.
The researchers found sleep loss increased the subjective value of food compared to non-food items independent of hormonal effects. Their neuroimaging results revealed increased activity in a circuit involving the amygdala and hypothalamus after sleep deprivation. These data suggest one way a lack of sleep can promote overeating and obesity risk.