Poor Sleepers Crave Fatty Foods

Poor Sleepers Crave Fatty Foods

Sleep deprivation can cause changes in brain activity that increase our desire for high-calorie food items, new research has found. This is bad news for sleep walkers, with sleep loss once again linked to obesity.

A new study published in Nature Communications argues that the steep rise in obesity in industrialized nations correlates with a continual decline in sleep. Researchers used brain imaging to study the responses of sleep-deprived individuals as they were presented with images of food containing varying calorie levels. They found that sleep-deprived individuals showed greater activity in areas associated with the motivation to eat when shown high-calorie foods.

These findings establish a disrupting impact of sleep deprivation that blunts activity in established appetitive evaluation regions within the human frontal and insular cortex during food desirability choices, yet a converse subcortical amplification of reactivity within the amygdala, known to code salience in the context of food decisions.
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Furthermore, these neural changes were associated with a significant increase in appetitive desire for weight-gain promoting (high-calorie) food items following sleep loss, the magnitude of which was proportional to the subjective severity of sleep loss across participants.

This is far from the first time a study has made these claims: just this year researchers from the University of Pennsylvania found people who lose a lot of sleep eat more fatty foods and gain more weight. The study used the largest, most diverse sample to date — 225 healthy adults ages 22 to 50 — and it was also done in a controlled sleep lab.

The authors hope that their findings will help to improve public health policies.

“In summary, these findings provide a novel brain mechanism by which sleep loss may lead to the development and/or maintenance of obesity through the selection of foods carrying obesogenic (weight-gain) potential, helping to explain the significant association between reduced sleep time and obesity reported in population-level studies,” the paper concluded.

The impact of sleep deprivation on food desire in the human brain [Nature]


  • Interesting, since i’m one who definitely recognises the allure of junk food when i’m really tired, but now that you mention it usually not when i’m well rested..

    That said, this is definitely yet another seeming conclusion reached with nothing but anecdotal evidence.. “When X happened we saw Y also happen so they must be related”… No. Just no.

    • Yes, their conclusions seem a little faulty too because the stress is on weight gain and obesity.
      From my own personal and purely anecdotal experience; staying up late makes me feel tired so I crave higher energy food in order to attempt to rectify that.

      And surely that is a more logical conclusion than this “gain more weight” thing? Since the body craves energy to do work- Weight gain happens when you don’t expend that energy through work.

      They save it in saying “potential for”, but the weight gain would still likely be secondary and dependant on a more sedentary lifestyle. (on balance). At least that is how it seems to me.

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