According to a new study, a major weapon in the battle against obesity might be as simple as getting a good night's sleep.
A study by researchers at UC Berkeley revealed why just one sleepless night can make us crave calorie-dense junk food like hamburgers, potato chips and sweets. While previous studies have linked unhealthy foods and sleep deprivation, the UC Berkeley study may reveal the source of the connection.
Researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study the brains of 23 healthy young adults after a normal night's sleep, and again after a sleepless night.
Participants were shown images that ranged from foods like apples, strawberries and carrots to foods like pizza and doughnuts while their brain activity was measured. As an incentive, they were told they would receive the food they most desired after the MRI.
Not only did the sleep-deprived individuals crave the unhealthy choices, but their brains behaved differently as well. The study found impairment in the area of the brain that governs complex decision-making, and increased activity in the area of the brain that governs rewards.
"The results shed light on how the brain becomes impaired by sleep deprivation, leading to the selection of more unhealthy foods, and, ultimately, higher rates of obesity," said Stephanie Greer, the study's lead author, in a release.
Greer also said that while the study's results may be troubling, there is a silver lining.
"The findings indicate that getting enough sleep is one factor that can help promote weight control by priming the brain mechanisms governing appropriate food choices," she said.