Sleep Restriction Activates Brain Centres That Regulate Appetite

Regular readers will be well aware of the emerging evidence that quality and amount of sleep can have profound effects on eating behaviour and may well be an important factor in the development of obesity.

A study by Marie-Pierre St-Onge and colleagues from Columbia University, New York, in a paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to examine the effect of sleep restriction on brain regions sensitive to food stimuli.

The researchers studied 30 healthy, normal-weight men and women for a 2-phase inpatient crossover study in which they spent either 4 h/night (restricted sleep) or 9 h/night (habitual sleep) in bed.

Overall neuronal activity in response to food stimuli was significantly greater after restricted sleep than after habitual sleep, particularly in areas associated with reward, cognitive processing, decision-making, and self-control, including the putamen, nucleus accumbens, thalamus, insula, and prefrontal cortex.

The findings of this study link restricted sleep and susceptibility to food stimuli and are consistent with the notion that reduced sleep may lead to greater propensity to overeat.

“These changes associated with reduced sleep apparently affect brain regions known to be linked to motivation and desire and may indicate an increased propensity to seek food in individuals who are not getting enough sleep. These actions, in a world where food is readily accessible, would promote weight gain. Overall, these findings suggest that changes in neuronal activity in response to food stimuli after insufficient sleep are precursors to energy balance regulation mechanisms in the brain.”

Certainly more evidence that lack of sleep may be driving those cravings and impulsive eating that could be contributing to weight gain.

Edmonton, Alberta

ResearchBlogging.orgSt-Onge MP, McReynolds A, Trivedi ZB, Roberts AL, Sy M, & Hirsch J (2012). Sleep restriction leads to increased activation of brain regions sensitive to food stimuli. The American journal of clinical nutrition PMID: 22357722