Lack of sleep and unhealthy eating habits are correlated, according to a UC Berkeley study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.
UC Berkeley professor of psychology and neuroscience Matthew Walker and doctoral students Andrea Goldstein and Stephanie Greer analyzed differences in the brain activity of 23 young adults after they experienced a normal night’s sleep compared to no sleep at all. The sleep-deprived brains showed decreased activity in the decision-making area of the frontal lobe and increased activity in the reward-receiving part of the brain.
The participants were presented with 80 images of different foods, ranging from healthy foods like fruits and vegetables to higher caloric specimens such as pizza and doughnuts. The sleepless brains found the less nutritious choices more appealing.
In a UC Berkeley press release, Walker said that the sleepless brain begins to have trouble with complex judgments and decisions and instead compensates with increased activity in primal brain structures that focus on motivation and desires.
UC Berkeley student Ryan Keane said that he either eats unhealthily or not at all during finals week, a time students are usually sleep-deprived. He said food becomes invasive and throws him off schedule.
“It all comes down to better time management,” Keane said. “If people are not sleeping well and are not eating well, they aren’t going to be productive and aren’t going to be (functioning) at the best of their abilities. It’s a horrible, perpetual cycle.”
UC Berkeley student Melanie Choi, who sleeps for one to two hours a night when she is preparing for midterms, said that with less sleep, her appetite perishes. Instead, she stays awake on coffee, tea and other drinks. Though her lack of appetite contradicts the study, she agrees that an insufficient amount of sleep hinders good health.
“It’s your decision whether or not you sleep a lot,” Choi said. “You can definitely sleep a lot, but (as a student), it is at the sacrifice of studying.”
In essence, Walker’s study scientifically suggests what several students have known all along — the more they sleep, the healthier they eat.