The annual summer wave of articles about weight loss that talk about getting ready for “bikini season” seem pointless and annoying. Chances are, most people concerned about managing their weight aren’t aiming to squeeze into something only slightly larger than an eyeglass-cleaning cloth. Here’s a look at interesting new research on weight loss that you might actually be able to use. If you struggle with your weight, getting more sleep may help.
The National Sleep Foundation reports that two-thirds of adults in the U.S. say they do not get adequate sleep during the week, and current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows that two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese. Researchers have long been aware of the link between obesity and lack of sleep, but two recent studies provide additional evidence of the connection between sleep, brain function and food choices. Both studies were presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine in Boston this month.
Researchers at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center and Columbia University in New York discovered that the brain’s reward centers are more active in people who are sleep-deprived. That could explain the tendency to reach for cinnamon rolls on a morning after a night of little sleep rather than whole-grain toast and fruit. In contrast, the study showed that these reward centers in the brain were less active in people who had had adequate sleep.
The study was small, involving only 25 men and women of normal weight. Researchers performed resonance imaging (MRI) scans on the study participants while they looked at images of healthy and unhealthy foods. The scans were done after five nights, during which their sleep was restricted to four hours or allowed to continue to up to nine hours.
The reward centers deep in the brain lit up when the sleep-deprived study participants looked at unhealthy food images, the study reports. This specific neuronal response to unhealthy food suggests that people may give in more readily to food temptations when they haven’t slept enough.
Another study, conducted at the Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that higher brain function is impaired by lack of sleep rather than activity in deeper brain structures that influence desire and reward. This was also a small study, involving only 23 healthy participants. After both a normal night’s sleep and a night of sleep deprivation, participants reported how much they wanted food items shown to them while they were in an MRI scanner.
In this study, sleep deprivation significantly impaired brain activity in the frontal lobe, an area that plays a key role in controlling behavior and making complex choices. The study suggest that your frontal lobe could be responsible when, after a night of no sleep, you can’t filter all the information about the taste, smell, appearance, and healthy vs. unhealthy quality of food, and the process of making a choice gets jumbled.
This summer, take care of both your frontal lobe and the deep recesses of your brain by making a pledge to get enough sleep. The extra winks may increase your yen for beautiful, seasonal fruits, vegetables, and salads, help you limit consumption of high-calorie foods with lots of fat, salt, and sugar, and trim your waistline.