The relationship between sleep and junk food cravings

Everywhere I turn these days, I am tempted with delicious sweets and baked goods. Whether I’m visiting the neighbors, walking through the office, or shopping at the supermarket, a plethora of cookies, candies and other treats beckons. “‘Tis the season,” I say as I grab another chocolate-dipped sea salt caramel. I can’t seem to help myself, but sometimes I wonder if it’s just me. As The Guardian reports, there might be another factor at play here: sleep deprivation

salted caramels

While there is no doubt that more sweets beckon to me during the holidays, but likewise the frantic pace of shopping, baking, and decorating results in some sleep loss at this time of the year as well. After getting home from work, I often spend my evenings making batches of toffee or preparing dough to bake off later for the cookie trays I like to take to the office. I look up at the clock and it’s way past bedtime, and I haven’t even done the dinner dishes. 

This hectic schedule – and resultant sleep loss – could contribute to my increased snacking, according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Cologne. They took two groups of people, fed them the same dinner, then kept one group up all night while allowing the other to get restful night’s sleep. When they measured their brain activity the next day, the group who didn’t get much sleep was more likely to favorably react to images of junk food. When the groups were switched the following week, the results remained the same – the sleep-deprived group viewed junk food images more favorably. 

The researchers found some interesting changes in brain patterns, although they weren’t able to tease out all of the factors that may lead to the differences. Further study with a larger group is warranted, but the findings point to a lack of sleep contributing to making poor food choices, which can lead to weight gain. So if you are trying to avoid eating every tempting treat this holiday season, getting enough rest should be high on your list of priorities.

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