If you or someone you know does have cravings (seems nearly everyone does), you or they will probably find this information very interesting. A lot of us have thought we just have cravings because we like some particular food or sweet too much and we know we shouldn’t eat it, but we usually give in and eat it anyway…. and then we feel guilty for not being able to just ban it from our lives.
Research has found evidence that cravings are not a simple matter of willpower. There are certain brain activities seemingly at the bottom of it, at least for some people. Actually make that a lot of people. The reason we’re so confident it likely is involved in a lot of people’s cravings is because the brain activity involved gets involved due to a problem many of us have.
Are you tired? Do you have problems sleeping? Do you go to bed late and get up early? According to study that came up with the evidence that cravings are not just a matter of willpower, if you are not getting enough sleep — running on a sleep deficit— there’s a very good chance you will, or already are, packing on unwanted pounds.
The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Cologne, Germany, and published in Journal of Neurosci, the Society for Neuroscience’s first journal. The study was designed to discover how a sleep deficit, or sleep deprivation if you will, impacts a person’s decision-making processes and hormones and influences your choices of what foods you eat.
The people in the study came to their lab on two separate nights to eat a standardized dinner. (Standardized so what they ate was controlled and therefore was the same for everyone in their group. After each dinner at the lab, the participants were told either to go home and sleep normally or to spend the night at the lab, where they would be kept awake. After each night of either sleep or total sleep deprivation the following morning the researchers would assess the participants’ desires for snack foods, brain activity, and hormone levels.
Can you guess what they found? If you guessed that the people who were sleep deprived wanted more junk foods, you’re right. The researchers stated it this way: “Sleep loss increased the subjective value of food compared to non-food items independent of hormonal effects.” So, lack of sleep is tied to cravings for junk foods.
Why does lack of sleep do that? One possible reason may be found in the neuroimaging on the study participants the researchers did which found that after sleep deprivation there was increased brain activity in a circuit involving the amygdala and hypothalamus — two areas of your brain that control how much you eat. That does sound like a reason lack of sleep might add up to eating more, craving more, junk foods, and therefore contribute to weight gain.
And that’s still not all. The researchers said all of the above is just one way lack of sleep can increase overeating and therefore increase your obesity risk.
There’s another way that not getting enough sleep can cause weight gain. Another group of researchers — this group at Uppsala University in Uppsala, Sweden — discovered that the metabolic functions of one’s body are adversely affected by disrupted sleep and circadian rhythms. And they actually proved lack of sleep results in a “tissue-specific change in DNA methylation”. In layman’s language that means lack of sleep can change which genes are turned on or off.
Jonathan Cedernaes who led the study put it this way: “It is interesting that we saw changes in DNA methylation only in adipose tissue, and specifically for genes that have also been shown to be altered at the DNA methylation level in metabolic conditions such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. Epigenetic modifications are thought to be able to confer a sort of metabolic ‘memory’ that can regulate how metabolic programs operate over longer time periods. We therefore think that the changes we have observed in our new study can constitute another piece of the puzzle of how chronic disruption of sleep and circadian rhythms may impact the risk of developing for example obesity.” And that’s still not all!
Lack of sleep can also lead to blood sugar problems. A study at the University of Chicago Medical Center found that sleep deprivation can disrupt fat metabolism, elevate levels of free fatty acids in your blood and reduce the ability of insulin to regulate blood sugars. Simply stated, lack of sleep can lead to diabetes — a condition that is said by experts to go hand-in-hand with obesity.
It seems pretty clear from these studies that anyone wanting to lose weight, or even maintain their healthy weight, definitely needs to make a good night’s sleep a routine part of their lives. If you want to avoid unwanted pounds, you need to make sleep an actual priority in your life… and not think of it as a luxury as many people seem to do these days.
This research is also good information to pass along to teenagers and young adults… if they know sleep is key to avoiding weight gain, diabetes, and other health problems, it may motivate them to get enough sleep.
We’ve written before about various health issues linked to lack of sleep… perhaps knowing weight problems are also linked to that, will be a good motivator for adults as well as young people to get enough sleep, not just some!