We eat junk food when we're sleepy

Today is one of those days for me.

Not one of those bad days, necessarily, but one of those days where I am really, really tired. I'm a natural night owl so, on occasion, I'll stay up until one or two in the morning for virtually no reason. Sometimes I'll be writing or reading something, other times I'll be watching something on TV. One time I stayed up organizing my bedroom simply because I felt a spurt of energy after midnight and wanted to do something with it.

And while my reasons for staying up are varied, the results the next day are always the same: I am exhausted, groggy and eating absolutely everything in sight. Apparently I'm not the only one though, since science has just proven that saying "no" to junk food is MUCH harder when you're tired.


Read more ¿Qué más? Can't sleep? Maybe you're afraid of the dark!

I had read before that there is a link between sleep deprivation and obesity. Honestly, it's why I usually try to NOT pull my staying-up-too-late stunts. I know that, besides just not making me feel good mentally, they tend to not make me feel good physically—and I compensate by eating way too much. And, mind you, it's always eating carbs. Lots and lots of carbs.

Doesn't everyone do that? When I'm tired, the pattern is pretty predictable: I have to have a bagel in the morning and I typically end up getting something equally as high-carb for lunch (today's case in point: pasta!). And, of course, the minute I finish these meals I start to feel guilty and hating myself a little for staying up last night.

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The new study, presented in Boston at SLEEP 2012, apparently looked at healthy young adults to "see if specific regions of the brain related to food processing are affected by sleep" and found this out:

Lack of sleep reduced activity in the frontal lobe, a brain region critical for controlling behavior and making complex choices, including the selection of food, but didn't appear to change activity in deeper brain structures that react to basic desire. Sleep deprivation also weakened the association between food desire and taste ratings, indicating a diminished capability to use expected taste value to determine food desire.

So, basically, the reason why we eat junk food when we're tired is because we lose our ability to control ourselves if we haven't slept enough. That's definitely good to know! Since I'm still pretty committed to keeping the weight off, I think this is a clear signal that I need to make sure to not stay up as much. I mean, this definitely explains why I bought a bagel this morning instead of my usual yogurt for breakfast.

Tonight I'll definitely be making sure to get to bed early—and maybe packing a salad for lunch. And at least I'll (hopefully) be rested enough to not cave and get something else.

Do you ever find yourself eating a lot on days that you're tired? What do you think of this new study? Share with us in the comments below!

Image via tamdotcom/flickr

Topics: healthy eating  junk food  overweight