Lose Sleep, Gain Pounds

By Lizzie Myers, August 11, 2013

Courtesy of Wold Fitness

Think back to college. Remember finals week when you would sit in the library with a pile of textbooks until the sun rises? That one week when you would just embrace the sleep deprivation and order a large pizza at 3am to keep yourself going? There are few things more fattening than the finals week diet. Sadly, that diet, when you just can’t resist those cravings for fatty foods, doesn’t end when you graduate.

Granted, finals may be the only occasion for which we’ll be required to memorize and understand 4 months worth of knowledge on multiple subjects…all at once. Luckily, that scenario does not exist in the working world. What finals week did accurately prepare us for post-graduation is the juggling of deadlines and the sleep that is often lost in the process. While we may not be so quick to order Domino’s in the middle of the night, studies have shown that a lack of sleep causes people to make poor eating decisions the following day.

A study at the University of Colorado compared a group of sleep-deprived subjects to a group of well-rested subjects in terms of their eating habits. Not only did researchers find that the subjects with only 5 hours of sleep ate more overall than the other group, the tired subjects also craved foods that were higher in calories, despite their usual eating habits. After just a few sleep-deprived nights, subjects gained 2 pounds on average. In addition, the eating schedule of the sleepy subjects changed. Since their internal clock had been disrupted, they ate differently at meals and snacked more, especially after dinner.

Ok, so depriving the body of sleep will bring on more unhealthy cravings and a greater difficulty in resisting them, but why exactly must our bodies react in this way? A recent study in the Nature Communications journal on the relationship between fatigue and diet examined the brain activity of tired subjects to better explain this correlation. Researchers found increased activity in the amygdala, which is responsible for emotional responses including desires for food. They also found reduced activity in regions of the frontal lobe that aid in decision-making. Clearly, losing a few hours of sleep significantly alters our brain activity, which explains why we reach for donuts and fries after a late night at the office.

Remember, your metabolism in college could handle that finals week diet quite a bit better than it can now. Try to manage your time so that you can avoid late-night scrambles to get everything done. Of course, if your boss, client, or coworker drops a project on you last minute, a late night may be inevitable. In these cases, simply be more aware of what you choose to eat the following day and remind yourself to only eat when you feel hungry. Despite the endless amounts of wisdom you’ve acquired since college, you could still fall victim to that calorie-fueled daze that follows a sleepless night. So get your rest and stay healthy!



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