When I first read the title of this study, I assumed it was research confirming that food choices and anxiety levels could affect sleep. It seemed interesting, but also kind of a no-brainer. As a notoriously poor sleeper, I am well aware that sometimes it is that late-night brownie or family drama that is keeping me awake.
But that's not what these studies are saying. Rather, these studies looked at how a lack of sleep affected a sufferer's future food choices and anxiety levels and the researchers unlocked how and why those of us who sleep poorly often make poor choices and experience high anxiety as a result.
The first study, which was presented at SLEEP 2012, the 26th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies (APSS), looked at how sleep deprivation impacts the parts of the brain that affect food choices, potentially explaining how obesity could become a side effect of poor sleep.
For the study, researchers used MRI scans to study the brain waves of 23 healthy adults. Subjects were divided into two groups: those who were allowed to get a good night's sleep, and those who were sleep deprived for the night. Afterwards, participants were asked to rate their craving levels for specific food items while inside an MRI scanner.
Researchers found that the sleep-deprived participants experienced impaired brain activity in their frontal lobe, the region that controls behavior and helps us make complex choices.
“Our goal was to see if specific regions of the brain associated with food processing were disrupted by sleep deprivation,” said lead author Stephanie Greer, a graduate student at the Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, in a statement.
The study concluded that sleep deprivation increases sufferers' craving for unhealthy foods and made it more difficult for them to resist temptation and make healthy choices.
In a similar study, researchers also concluded that lack of sleep increases anxiety levels, particularly if the person is already prone to anxiety. This study, conducted at the Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, also involved two groups of test subjects — those who slept well and those who were sleep deprived. Afterward, researchers conducted MRI scans on subjects as participants were exposed to an emotional task during which they anticipated a potentially negative experience. (They were subjected to an unpleasant visual image.)
Researchers found that sleep deprivation significantly increased subjects' anxiety in portions of the brain linked to strong emotions, especially the amygdala, a part of the brain associated with responding to negative and unpleasant experiences.
So it's a vicious cycle of poor food choices and anxiety causing poor sleep which then results in future poor food choices and anxiety.
Hmm, the whole thing makes me tired. Maybe it's time to break the cycle with one of these natural sleep aids.
How does sleep deprivation affect your food choices and anxiety levels?