AASM Logo A new report by scientists at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) has further strengthened the link between sleep deprivation and weight gain. According to the team, lack of sleep causes the brain’s reward centers to be activated, unlike periods of adequate sleep.

As part of the study, about 25 men and women underwent MRI scanning while they observed pictures of junk foods. 1 of the groups was exposed to the optimum 9 hours of sleep, while the other set slept just for 4 hours.

“The same brain regions activated when unhealthy foods were presented were not involved when we presented healthy foods. The unhealthy food response was a neuronal pattern specific to restricted sleep. This may suggest greater propensity to succumb to unhealthy foods when one is sleep restricted,” commented Marie-Pierre St-Onge, PhD, the study’s principal investigator.

The results showed that limited sleep increased the desirability for fast foods and not for healthy nutrients. This implied that junk foods looked like a reward for people with restricted sleep. Moreover, the scans showed that people who slept less apparently ate more food and fats, as compared to those who slept regularly.

Presented at Sleep 2012, this analysis supports previous studies talking about the association between lack of sleep and appetite boost. The circadian rhythms functioning in our bodies tend to get disrupted during irregular sleep patterns. This disturbs the complete cycle of feeding and resting cycles, subsequently resulting in weight gain.