Hungry for Sleep

Getting enough high-quality sleep can help maintain healthy eating habits.

One more thing to add to the list of benefits of getting enough high-quality sleep: It can help maintain healthy eating habits. When we’re tired, we’re less able to resist high-calorie foods, according to a recent study by William D. S. Killgore, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard.

Results from Killgore’s study found that the brains of sleepy people who were presented with images of enticing, high-calorie foods like cheeseburgers and chocolate cake looked significantly different than the brains of those who were presented with the same images while not feeling sleepy.

The key difference was in the area of the brain known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which serves as a “braking system” to prevent you from doing tempting but inappropriate things. (It’s the same area that gets muted when you’ve had too much alcohol.) “The sleepier the subject, the less he or she tended to activate that dorsolateral prefrontal cortex when looking at high-calorie foods,” Killgore says. There was, however, no difference between sleepy and alert subjects when they looked at low-calorie foods or control images like rocks.

Killgore adds that you don’t have to be severely sleep-deprived to experience a dip in self-regulatory ability. “Even going to bed an hour later at night could have an effect,” he says. “All of the subjects were within the normal range of sleepiness that most of us experience on any given day.“ Getting enough sleep, Killgore asserts, ”is one of your best weapons against gaining weight in the long run.”

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