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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

Northwestern: Study Looks at Why We Crave Junk Food After a Sleepless Night

When you’re sleep deprived, you tend to reach for doughnuts, fries and pizza. A new Northwestern Medicine study has figured out why you crave more calorie-dense, high-fat foods after a sleepless night – and how to help thwart those unhealthy choices.

Blame it on your nose – or olfactory system – which is affected in two ways by sleep deprivation, according to the study. First, it goes into hyperdrive, sharpening the food odors for the brain so it can better differentiate between food and non-food odors.

But then there is a breakdown in the communication with other brain areas that receive food signals. And with that, decisions about what to eat change.

“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,” said senior author Dr.  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,” Dr. Kahnt added.

The paper was published Oct. 8 in eLife.

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