You may have noticed a pattern in your snacking; you probably do it most when you haven't had a lot of sleep. It turns out that now there's actually science to back up your suspicions.
Science News reports that researchers at the Cognitive Neuroscience Society's annual meeting in March presented findings that suggest a link between sleep deprivation and an increased sensitivity of the brain's reaction to food smells. This leads to people who don't get enough sleep feeling more drawn to snacks.
In the study, adults who only got four hours of sleep rather than the recommended seven to nine hours inhaled both food-type smells and nonfood-type smells while under MRI scans. Food smells consisted of snacks like potato chips and cinnamon rolls, while fir trees were used as a nonfood smell.
This same experiment was held weeks later with the same participants after they'd gotten a full eight hours of sleep. The resulting statistics showed a spike in brain activity for the food smells when the participants were sleep deprived. Much more so than when they'd gotten enough sleep. There was no spike at all in brain reactions to nonfood smells.
Although there's more research to be done, these results do go hand-in-hand with something we've suspected already. According to Zawya, another study, led by King's College London, found that sleep-deprived people consumed more calories the next day than those who got enough sleep. The calorie equivalent to the average amount of extra calories consumed is comparable to about four and a half slices of bread. That's a lot of calories if you're doing it on a consistent basis!
Health risks associated with eating this many more calories per day include obesity, diabetes, heart diseases and more. It's clearly not a sustainable or healthy lifestyle choice.
Dr. Irshaad Ebrahim, consultant and medical director of The London Sleep Centre, said of the U.K. study: “Sleep deprivation may cause overeating by altering certain hormones that play an important role in controlling appetite and satiety."
“In a properly functioning brain, the two hormones are released on and off to regulate normal feelings of hunger. Sleep deprivation can, however, alter Ghrelin and Leptin levels. The effects of sleep loss on appetite seem to be most powerful in the late afternoon and early evening, times when snacking has been linked to weight gain.”
Although this subject continues to be studied, it's probably safe to say that getting enough sleep matters a lot more than you probably thought. Time to take it more seriously!