Thursday, January 19, 2012

A lack of sleep increases food cravings

Many complex organisms need sleep, including us humans. Why many animals opt for a temporary loss of consciousness is not fully understood, but it seems to be necessary to restore certain bodily functions, and perhaps to reset the brain. It is known that not getting enough sleep is not quite beneficial for your feeling of well being. Scientists from the University of Uppsala have discovered an additional effect of a lack of sleep: it makes you more hungry.

Participants, all of them young healthy men, in the study were exposed to a single night of sleep deprivation. Thereafter, their energy expenditure and desire for food were measured. They found that energy expenditure had decreased right after a night of no sleep, while food cravings were higher. It indicates the body has a distorted view of the energy requirements when lacking sleep. Results were compared with a normal night of sleep.

In addition to behavioural changes, the scientists did additional experiments to back up their findings. After scanning the brain of sleep-deprived participants, they found increased activity in a brain area involved with regulating appetite. Specifically, they found higher activity in the area that stimulates desire to eat. Taken together, the scientists claim that poor sleeping habits increase the risk of developing obesity.

We still have much to learn about sleep. Though we have shown that our body needs it to restore various processes, we have not fully unravelled its functions. Additionally, we are only just starting to discover what harm a lack of sleep brings us. In studies focussing on the mechanisms behind sleep, scientists have recently uncovered which brain cells keep us awake, and uncovered a gene that plays a pivotal role in waking up.

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