We already know being sleep-deprived effs with our waistline—and recent research from Penn Medicine may have finally decoded why. Word is how our brain's salience network functions is impacted by the less-than-stellar shuteye, a pathway in the brain thought to drive our decisions.
Participants spent five days and four nights in a sleep lab and were monitored around the clock. On the first night, everyone scored a full night's sleep, and brain scans were conducted to determine a baseline for "normal" network function.
On the following night, 34 of the participants were selected at random to be the sleep-deprived group, while the rest continued to get their eight hours. Brain scans continued on days two, three and four at the same time each day. Meanwhile, participants had access to a wide array of foods, and they could nosh on as much as they wanted.
Sleep-deprived participants hoovered almost 1,000 calories while they were forced to stay awake—and although their calorie consumption post-all-nighter was about the same as those who'd gotten a full night's sleep, researchers found a difference in the types of calories that were being consumed: The sleep-deprived group hoovered a lot more fat and a lot less carbs than those who'd slept.
The sleep-deprived group also showed greater activity in salience network function. According to Penn Medicine:
The salience network is located toward the front of the brain and consists of three sections, the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, bilateral putamen, and bilateral anterior insula. Activity in these structures is linked to both emotion and bodily sensations, such as the heart racing, stomach churning, pain, thirst, embarrassment, and attempting mental challenges. Changes in caloric intake and content after sleep deprivation may therefore relate to changes in the “salience” of food, and in particular fatty food, in individuals who are sleep-deprived.
So if your current efforts to tip the (weigh) scales in your favor isn't working, it may be due to a shift in brain activity when you don't get enough shuteye—especially if this is something you're struggling with on the regular. Even something as simple as doing yoga, tweaking your diet, trying natural sleep remedies, or nixing the boozy nightcap may make all the difference to your... well, circumference.
"Although this study examined the effects of acute total sleep deprivation, similar changes may occur in response to the chronic partial sleep restriction that is so prevalent in today's society," lead study author Hengyi Rao said in a statement. Word.
How do your eating habits change when you're sleep-deprived?
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