- People tend to crave for calorie-rich, high-fat food after a sleepless night
- Lack of sleep makes the brain more susceptible to enticing food smells
- People who lack sleep should pay close attention to how the nose affects their food choices
Have you ever wondered why people tend to crave for calorie-rich, high-fat food like cakes, doughnuts, fries and pizza after a sleepless night? Well, a new study has revealed this has something to do with our sense of smell.
Researchers said that lack of sleep makes the brain more susceptible to enticing food smells. Sleeplessness causes the olfactory system to go into hyperdrive; sharpening the brain’s ability to differentiate between food and non-food odors. A breakdown of communication, however, occurs in some areas of the brain responsible for food signal and this causes people to reach for junk food when they are sleep deprived.
“When you’re sleep deprived, these brain areas may not be getting enough information, and you’re overcompensating by choosing food with a richer energy signal,” explained study researcher Thorsten Kahnt, assistant professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
“But it may also be that these other areas fail to keep tabs on the sharpened signals in the olfactory cortex. That could also lead to choosing doughnuts and potato chips.”
In their study published in eLife on Oct. 18, 2019, Kahnt and colleagues investigated the link between food preference and endocannabinoid, neurotransmitters with regulatory functions on memory, immune system and sleep that change how the brain responds to smell.
The researchers involved 29 individuals in a sleep study and found that sleep deprived participants tend to opt for high-energy food like doughnuts and chips. They also observed that the level of endocannabinoids in sleep deprived individuals was higher and the increase was linked to changes in food choices.
“Our findings show that sleep-dependent changes in food choices are associated with changes in an olfactory pathway that is related to the ECS,” the researchers wrote in their study.
Kahnt said that people who lack sleep should pay close attention to how the nose affects their food choices.