Do You Want To Eat Healthier? Start With a Good Night Of Sleep

Photo by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash

We all know it; this world needs to step up her eating game. There are some obvious reasons why.

First of all more then half of the population in Western societies is overweight or obese. Making them vulnerable for all kinds of diseases like, diabetes, cardio vascular diseases, cancer, etc. That is not okay!

But also important is the impact that our Western diet has on this planet. Our eating habits are one of the biggest contributors to global climate change.

I think we all agree on the fact that we have a global eating problem. That is not new, consciously (or unconsciously) we all know that it’s time for a collective diet change.

But this is SO much easier said then done!

At this moment it’s pretty clear that eating healthy is not only about calorie intake. The simple assumption…

calorie in < calorie out = losing weight

… turns out not to be that simple

Type of calories, metabolism, micriobiome (the bacteria in and around the body), amount of veggies, physical (in)activity, among others also have their place in the equation.

Scientists even found that sleep influences our eating habits and cravings! Here are 3 ways that explains how and why that is happening.

1. Lack of sleep weakens people’s ability to resist cravings for high-calorie foods

A study performed by professor Walker of UC Berkley in 2013 was the first to link specific brain mechanisms with food choices after a poor night of sleep. It was already seen in other studies that people that sleep less also tend to be overweight or obese. But it was still a mystery why.

In this study 23 young adults brains were scanned with fMRI. First after a normal night of sleep and than after a sleepless night. They found that after a sleepless night brain regions that are related to complex decision-making were blunted. On the other hand, activity in brain regions related to motivation and desire were amplified.

Besides that they found that high-calorie foods aka junk food became more desirable for the participants. The changes in brain activity may explain why.

2. Sleep deprived brains can cause “cannabis munchies”

Scientists at the University of Chicago also found a link between sleep deprivation and snack-attacks. In this study they didn’t looked at the effects on brain activity they focused on brain chemicals.

They found that sleep restricted volunteers showed an increase in the cannabis-like brain chemical 2-AG. With the presence of higher 2-AG the volunteers self-reported a greater appetite and a strong desire to eat. Smoking cannabis is also known for triggering an similar appetite boost known as “the munchies”.

The participant ate twice as much fat it the form of snacks when they were sleep deprived in comparison to a normal night of sleep. In total the volunteers ate more than 300 extra calories when they were sleep deprived. That can make a huge difference over time!

3. Being tired gives us a sensitive smell for junk food

There is even more to sleep deprivation and eating habits. Scientist found that being tired brings our sense of smell in high-gear but only if the smells are food related.

Sleep deprivation seems to increase the brain’s sensitivity to food smells. Coauthor Surabi Bhutani, of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago explains:

“Adults operating on only four hours of sleep inhaled food odors such as those from potato chips and cinnamon rolls, and nonfood smells like fir trees while undergoing functional MRI scans. (The scientists carefully controlled participants’ food intake throughout the day.) A few weeks later, the same participants repeated the experiment — this time with a full eight hours of sleep.
When tired, participants showed greater brain activity in two areas involved in olfaction — the piriform cortex and the orbitofrontal cortex — in response to food smells than they did when well rested. That spike wasn’t seen in response to nonfood odors”

This is why it’s so hard to resist the smell of greasy food after a lousy night of sleep.

Bottom line:
Do you want to eat healthier? Make sure you get your 8 hours of sleep!

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