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Get some sleep, you might stop wanting those brownies

June 14, 2011|By Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Daytime sleepiness may be linked with a stronger urge for carbs and high-calorie foods, two studies find
Daytime sleepiness may be linked with a stronger urge for carbs and high-calorie… (Carlos Chavez / Los Angeles…)

A lack of sleep could be causing you to do more than nod off at work--it could be making you long for carbs and rich foods.

Two studies presented this week at the Associated Professional Sleep Societies meeting in Minneapolis show that being sleepy could affect our desire for carb-heavy foods. One study focused on 262 high school seniors who answered surveys on sleepiness, carb cravings, and depression.

Researchers discovered that as daytime sleepiness became more acute, so did a craving for carbs. Teens who had extreme daytime sleepiness had a 50% higher chance of also having a powerful jones for carbs.

A link with depression was found as well: Study participants who were very depressed were nearly three times more likely to have a big hankering for carbs.

"This study is important given the rising epidemic of obesity among teens as well as increasing metabolic syndrome and diabetes among young adult populations," said Mahmood Siddique of the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey, in a news release. "This study highlights the importance of diagnosing sleep deprivation as a risk factor for obesity among young adults. Those who are depressed and sleep-deprived may be at special risk for obesity."

In another study, researchers discovered that feeling sleepy during the day might make us less able to resist temptation in the form of rich, delicious foods. Twelve men and women age 19 to 45 underwent functional MRI tests while looking at pictures of high-calorie foods, low-calorie foods, as well as images of rocks and plants, which served as controls. They, too, had been surveyed about the intensity of their daytime sleepiness.

Those who had higher levels of daytime sleepiness showed less activity in their brain's prefrontal cortex while looking at the photos of high-calorie foods. The prefrontal cortex is where a lot of big decisions get worked out--determining if something is good or bad, for example. It's also thought to be the area that governs social control and inhibitions, such as tamping down urges to tell the boss where to stick it, or to consume an entire plate of cinnamon rolls.

Although researchers aren't sure that being overly tired would lead to actually consuming said plate of cinnamon rolls, they noted that more research on that might be warranted.

In a news release, study co-author William Killgore of Harvard Medical School said, "Given the chronic level of sleep restriction in our society, such relationships could have epidemiologic implications regarding the current increase in obesity in westernized countries."

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