This Is the Scientific Reason Why a Lack of Sleep Makes You Crave Junk Food

After a night of interrupted sleep you're most likely going to be off your game the next day. After a few nights of less than ideal shut-eye, things start to deteriorate quickly, with a loss in concentration, memory and a higher risk of developing physical symptoms. While we're well-versed in the side effects of sleep deprivation (it's one of our passions), we were interested to find out this week that new research conducted by the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine has proven that not receiving enough sleep at night can actually lead to junk food cravings the next day.

Not only does this mean that we've now got a new excuse for indulging every once in a while, but this could also be a vital finding that can be used to further study the reasons why it can be so difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle in today's demanding world where we're working more and sleeping less. Advice from Thorsten Kahnt, who led the study at Northwestern University—“It might be worth taking a detour to avoid your local doughnut shop next time you catch a 6 am flight”. Duly noted.

So, how exactly are the two seemingly unrelated issues connected? It turns out that when we lose out on valuable sleep hours, hormones called endocannabinoids are increased in our brain. These hormones actually make eating more enjoyable (impossible?) and boost our desire for specific foods such as cakes, chips and sweet treats. The communication between specific brain areas breaks down, and as Kahnt describes "you're overcompensating by choosing food with a richer energy signal".

In an experiment conducted by the university, twenty-nine men and women were divided into two test groups. All aged between eighteen and forty, one group was allowed to receive the ideal amount of sleep they required, while the other group was limited to just four hours a night. The two groups then switched four weeks later. On the day following the experiments, the test subjects were treated to breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks where their eating habits were closely monitored. Kahnt found that "participants changed their food choices. After being sleep deprived, they ate food with higher energy density like doughnuts, chocolate chip cookies and potato chips".

So, the next time you stay up late binge-watching your favourite Netflix series, consider not only the probable side effects like mood swings and a loss in concentration that could arise as a result of not getting enough sleep, keep in mind that it may be harder to navigate healthy food choices the next day.

Are you a sweet tooth? Discover the surprising reasons you're craving sugar-and how to curb them.

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