According to a recent study, healthy eating becomes a lot more difficult when we’re sleep deprived

No matter how dedicated we are to eating healthy, some days can feel a lot harder than others. Sometimes the desire to indulge in something comforting and calorific becomes too much and we find ourselves giving in.

Well it turns out, this lack of willpower could be related to sleep deprivation. If you find yourself craving all the good stuff that’s bad for you, a bad night’s sleep could be to blame.

Researchers at the Cognitive Neuroscience Society’s annual meeting in San Francisco revealed findings that suggested sleep deprivation increases our brain’s sensitivity to food smells. The result was an activity boost seen in areas related to olfaction, meaning our nose is aware of when we are tired and finds food smells more attractive as a result.

A lack of sleep, therefore, can make snacking and grazing more enticing. This may help us to partially understand why people who are tired tend to eat more and, as consequence, gain weight.

The study tested the brain’s responses to different odours for participants who had received various amounts of sleep. The results found that adults operating on just four hours of sleep responded to snack food smells such as cinnamon rolls and crisps. They were also tested on non-food smells like fir trees, all whilst undergoing functional MRI scans.

The scientists meticulously controlled participants’ food intake throughout the day, and several weeks later the same participants were invited back to repeat the experiment having had a full eight hours of sleep.

The results were clear. When they had received less sleep, participants showed greater brain response in two areas involved in olfaction — the orbitofrontal cortex and the piriform cortex — in response to food odours than when they had received more sleep.

Study co-author and member of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Surabhi Bhutani, said that this increased response was not seen when tested with non-food smells.

These results, though preliminary, fit with other examples of research which show a clear link between sleep deprivation and excessive calorie consumption, often leading to weight gain.

What healthy foods can we eat to boost our energy levels?

If you are running on empty when it comes to sleep, try starting your day with a breakfast of oatmeal and berries. The oats are complex-carbohydrates, which release energy slower than fatty or sugary breakfasts. Berries are a healthy, non-sugary way of dialling up your energy. Blueberries have even been found to improve motor performance and memory, which can help when you’re feeling sluggish.

Eggs are a good lunchtime option when you’re tired. They’re full of protein which will release energy throughout the day, and they even contain B vitamin choline, which has been found to improve visual and verbal memory. Eat a lunch of eggs and avocado on toast for extra energy, as avocado is a healthy fat which can reduce inflammation linked to fatigue.

For an energy-boosting snack to get you through the day, go for a potassium-rich banana or even some dark chocolate, which contains caffeine and has been found to boost cognitive function.

Of course, eating the right foods is no substitute for getting the sleep you need. Be sure to make time for your body to rest and repair itself overnight, and feel ready to tackle the day by morning.

This San Franciscan study highlights the importance of a good night’s sleep in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. For more guidance and information regarding the Science of Comfort, explore more of our blog articles.

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