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Sleep Deprivation Linked to Junk Food Cravings

Krispy Kreme doughnuts shown in Matthews, N.C., April 17, 2008 file photo.
Not getting enough sleep can lead you to eat more and gain weight, and a new study suggests the connection is caused by what happens in the sleep-deprived brain.

Researchers at the University of California Berkeley found that after just one sleepless night, the brain's frontal lobe, which governs rational decision-making, was impaired. In contrast, there was increased activity in the more primitive brain region that controls desire and responds to rewards. As a result, study participants — 23 healthy young adults — craved unhealthy snacks and junk food when they were sleep deprived, and had less ability to rein in that impulse.

Senior author Matthew Walker, a professor of psychology and neuroscience, says that combination may help explain why people who sleep less tend to be overweight or obese. On the other hand, he points out, the findings indicate that getting enough sleep could help promote weight control "by priming the brain mechanisms governing appropriate food choices."

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.