At Sleep 2012, researchers from the University of California show how sleep deprivation impairs the regions in the human brain responsible for food choices.
They state that these findings may help explain the association between obesity and sleep deprivation.
The researchers enrolled 23 healthy individuals to participate in the study. They then conducted two functional magnetic resonance imagine (fMRI) scans on the participants; one after a night of sleep deprivation; one after a normal night's sleep. While being scanned the participants were shown various food items and were asked to rate how much they wanted them.
Stephanie Greer, lead author of the study and a graduate student at the Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, explained: "Our goal was to see if specific regions of the brain associated with food processing were disrupted by sleep deprivation."
The team found that brain activity in the frontal lobe of the brain was significantly impaired when participants were sleep deprived.
These findings indicate that sleep deprivation may stop the higher brain functions that are usually vital for making good food choices, instead of changing activity in deeper brain structures that react to basic desire.
"We did not find significant differences following sleep deprivation in brain areas traditionally associated with basic reward reactivity. Instead, it seems to be about the regions higher up in the brain, specifically within the frontal lobe, failing to integrate all the different signals that help us normally make wise choices about what we should eat."
According to Greer, this impairment of the frontal lobe may represent one brain mechanism explaining the association between obesity and sleep deprivation.
Greer explained: "These results shed light on how the brain becomes impaired by sleep deprivation, leading to improper food choices."
Written By Grace Rattue