Our eating patterns depend on a lot of variables. Most people who are overweight or obese usually struggle with emotional eating, poor portion control, late-night eating, and an inability to feel full. This also accompanies eating a lot of salty or fatty foods, or processed carbohydrates. Recent science also suggests that chronic, poor-sleep patterns seem to contribute to obesity or weight-gain patterns. A new study suggests that lack of quality sleep may be fueling your feeding frenzy, specifically with fatty foods. According to this new Pennsylvania State University study,** when we don’t sleep well, we eat more, and we choose fat over carbohydrates or grains**. Sleep deprivation seems to specifically affect the salience network in the brain, which then seems to nudge us to want more fat. The researchers reference prior science that suggests inadequate sleep causes a shift in metabolic hormones that results in a need to feed. But they wanted to dig a bit deeper to see if there were specific regional impacts in the brain that might explain the sleep-deprived individuals want to eat. After all, according to current workplace statistics, nearly 15 million U.S. workers are hired to work the evening shift, night shift, or irregular shifts, while others miss out on sleep because they are new mothers and fathers. Many of us are struggling with insomnia or are stressed out and not sleeping well on a regular basis.
The study involved 34 test subjects and 12 control subjects. All were sequestered for four nights and five days during the study. All participants were allowed a first full night of sleep. For the next three nights, the test subjects were kept awake through a variety of means, while the control subjects were allowed to sleep. Age, BMI, ethnicity and age were used to match up the test and control subjects for the purposes of comparison results. A baseline functional MRI was performed on the second day (after first night of full sleep) and then on days two through five, to examine brain connectivity patterns and how they related to macronutrient intake.
The sleepers who were kept awake at night on average consumed an extra 1000 calories at night. Despite those extra calories, they did not eaat fewer calories during the day, but had the same calorie intake during the daytime as on day one, after a good night’s sleep. When the researchers looked at the type of foods the sleep-deprived subjects chose to eat daily, they noted a significantly high fat content. The researchers also saw specific activity in the salience network of the brain which seemed to correlate with higher consumption of fat calories, and a lower consumption of carbohydrate-based foods. This was the first time that a study showed specific macronutrient preferences, in sleep-deprived individuals. So it’s not just a question of eating more calories because of chronic lack of sleep, but rather eating more calories that are predominantly fat-based in nature.
This type of research may likely have great relevance in future treatments and strategies that are specifically targeted at overweight or obese individuals who may have sleep deprivation as a key contributor to their feeding and weight issues. Just knowing that you are chronically sleep-deprived can help to put you on alert and more attentive to your eating patterns and high-fat foods you may be choosing.
Fat has twice as many calories per gram as protein and carbohydrates. Current guidelines suggest that saturated fat consumption is associated with higher rates of heart disease and stroke. Despite recent headlines suggesting that the 1980’s guidelines of 30 percent total daily fat goals, and 10 percent daily saturated fat goals need more science-based scrutiny, we do need to continue to remove trans fat and moderate daily saturated fat goals. If you can, at minimum swap out processed-fat foods for high-fat foods high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Then you’ll at lest be consuming healthy fats, even while working to control your overall calorie intake.
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Known as The HealthGal, expert contributor Amy Hendel is a popular medical and lifestyle reporter, nutrition and fitness expert, columnist, and brand ambassador, as well as a health coach. Trained as a physician assistant, she maintains a health coach private practice in New York and Los Angeles. Author of The Four Habits of Healthy Families, you can find her on Twitter @HealthGal1103 and on Facebook at TheHealthGal. Her personal mantra is “Fix it first with food, fitness, and lifestyle.”