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Is Too Little Sleep Making You Fat?

Updated on March 15, 2020
John Iovine profile image

Science writer and experimenter. Conventionally published in science, technology, computers, personal development, health, & fitness.


If you find yourself dragging during the day, what do you do? If you’re like me, you snack. A snack boosts your blood sugar, giving you a quick energy boost and your off and running. So it isn’t too surprising to find yourself snacking throughout the day. But there’s a down side surprise aside from the extra calories you take in from snacking.

Sleep Deprived Have Enhanced Ability To Smell Food

Scientists already determined that sleep deprived individuals crave high calorie food. They just didn’t know why. You may question, if scientists already knew this, what’s so important about the why?

The why, may point toward a strategy to circumvent the behavior.

Thorsten Kahnt, a neurologist from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine may have discovered a key. The sense of smell in sleep deprived volunteers is enhanced. Smell initiates appetite, as anyone walking into bakery smelling fresh baked goods can attest to. Kahnt determined that the enhanced smell of the sleep deprived also prefer high caloric food.

To see how this was happening, the researchers put the sleep deprived volunteers into an MRI. While being scanned in the MRI the volunteers were given a variety of smells of both foods and non-foods. While the piriform showed increased activity, the information flow between the piriform cortex and the insula decreased.

Why That Matters

The piriform cortex is the part of the brain that processes smells. In sleep deprived individuals this region of the brain shows greater activity, it is enhanced. Enhanced as in more sensitive to food smells.

The insula cortex is a multimodal part of the brain that regulates food processing. The insula cortex, integrates taste, olfactory and somatosensory inputs.

While it is too early to define this as a cause and effect, based on one experiment, it does invited more experiments to be perform. The results are suggestive that the enhanced smell and decrease communication between the piriform cortex and insula will tend to cause an individual to choose higher caloric foods.


Strategy Action Steps

1)If you didn’t get a good night's sleep, know that you will probably be craving higher calorie food. Remember that bakery I mention a few paragraphs up. Yeah avoid any places like this where you’ll encounter these yummy food smells. You may find them harder to resist.

2) Perhaps a better strategy, if you are trying to regulate your food intake is to get a good night's sleep.

© 2020 John Iovine


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