Tired woman in bed refusing to wake up

There is ample advice out there on how to achieve a healthier lifestyle. By now you know to start up an exercise regime, eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains while limiting sugar, flour, alcohol and saturated fat.  What if you are doing all that and yet you are still not feeling your best and not achieving your goals?

The missing link may be sleep. Are you getting enough? Because if you are not, you may end up inadvertently sabotaging your healthy lifestyle plan.

The link between sleep deprivation and obesity has been established for some time, however, the biological reasons behind the correlation are not fully understood.

A recent study out of UC Berkeley1; however, has shed some light on exactly what is happening in our brains after a bad night’s sleep.

This study recruited 23 young adults to determine what effect, if any, a good night sleep and a bad night’s sleep would have on their response to food. It turns out, sleep has a significant effect.

After a good night’s sleep, the subjects chose to eat fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods. After the restless night; however, the subjects opted for doughnuts, pizzas and burgers.   In fact, the extent to which the subjects craved the high-calorie food was associated with the severity of sleep loss across the participants, that is, the worse the sleep – the stronger the desire for junk.

The researchers analyzed the subjects’ brain activities through MRI. They found that after a poor night of rest, frontal lobe activity was impaired. The frontal lobe is involved with complex decision-making, such as deciding between right and wrong and analyzing the consequences of our actions.  Further, they also found an increase in activity of the amygdala. The amygdala, by contrast, is the part of the brain that responds to rewards. This increase in amygdala activity and decrease in frontal lobe activity is thought to partly explain why people with less sleep chose the unhealthier foods.

Other studies have shown that chronic lack of sleep, such as for those on shift-work, can reduce the body’s production of leptin. Leptin is a hormone involved in the regulation of appetite, in particular, leptin tells us when we are full. Without adequate supplies of leptin, our internal appetite controls become disordered and ineffective.

So continue to eat your vegetables, get your exercise in, but for goodness sake, get to bed!

Sleep well.


1. S. Greer, A. Goldstein, M. Walker, The Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Food Desire in the Human Brain. Nature Communications 4, Article No. 2259. doi:10.1038/ncomms325, 

2. Patel SR, Hu FB, Short Sleep Duration and Weight Gain: a systematic review. Ovesity (Silver Spring). 2008 Mar; 16(3):643-53. doi: 10.1038/oby.2007.118. Epub 2008 Jan 17.

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