MRI scans show how sleep loss affects the ability to choose proper foods

MRI scans from a study being presented today at SLEEP 2012 reveal how sleep deprivation impairs the higher-order regions in the human brain where food choices are made, possibly helping explain the link between sleep loss and obesity that previous research has uncovered.

Twenty-three healthy adults participated in two sessions using (fMRI), one after a normal night's sleep and a second after a night of . In both sessions, participants rated how much they wanted various food items shown to them while they were inside the scanner.

"Our goal was to see if specific regions of the brain associated with food processing were disrupted by sleep deprivation," said lead author Stephanie Greer, a graduate student at the Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley.

Results show that sleep deprivation significantly impaired brain activity in the frontal lobe, a region critical for controlling behavior and making complex choices, such as the selection of food to eat. The study suggests that sleep loss may prevent the higher brain functions normally critical for making appropriate , rather than necessarily changing activity in deeper brain structures that react to basic desire.

"We did not find significant differences following sleep deprivation in traditionally associated with basic reward reactivity," Greer said. "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."

She added that this failure of the frontal lobe to optimally gather the information needed to decide on the right types of foods to eat – such as how healthy relative to how tasty an item may be – may represent one brain mechanism explaining the link between and obesity.

"These results shed light on how the brain becomes impaired by sleep deprivation, leading to improper food choices," Greer said.

More information: The abstract "Sleep deprivation disrupts human brain reactivity in response to food desire" is being presented today at SLEEP 2012, the 26th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies (APSS) in Boston.

Related Stories

Lack of sleep makes your brain hungry

date Jan 18, 2012

New research from Uppsala University, Sweden, shows that a specific brain region that contributes to a person's appetite sensation is more activated in response to food images after one night of sleep loss than after one ...

All-nighters can bring on euphoria, risky behavior

date Mar 23, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- A sleepless night can make us cranky and moody. But a lesser known side effect of sleep deprivation is short-term euphoria, which can potentially lead to poor judgment and addictive behavior, ...

Recommended for you

The coming merge of human and machine intelligence

date 3 hours ago

For most of the past two million years, the human brain has been growing steadily. But something has recently changed. In a surprising reversal, human brains have actually been shrinking for the last 20,000 ...

How the brain makes decisions

date 4 hours ago

Some types of decision-making have proven to be very difficult to simulate, limiting progress in the development of computer models of the brain. EPFL scientists have developed a new model of complex decision-making, ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.