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Brain Imaging Seems To Tout Sleep As Diet Aid

June 11, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology
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Lack of sleep can make you fat, and brain scans prove it.

That’s the message from a couple of new studies presented Sunday in Boston at SLEEP 2012, the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.

Researchers from St. Luke’sRoosevelt Hospital Center and Columbia University in New York used functional MRI to scan the brains of 25 normal-weight men and women as they looked at images of healthy and unhealthy foods. The researchers did two sets of scans, one after five nights when the subjects were restricted to four hours of sleep a night and the other after five nights during which the subjects were allowed to sleep up to nine hours.

The study’s principal investigator, Marie-Pierre St-Onge, PhD, of the New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center, affiliated with St. Luke’s-Roosevelt and Columbia, explained what happened:

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.

Dr. St-Onge was quoted in a news release from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM).

A similar study on the opposite coast shed more light on the brain processes involved. Researchers at the Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, used fMRI to scan the brains of 23 healthy adults, once after a good night’s sleep and once after sleep deprivation. Each time, the subjects rated how much they wanted various foods shown to them.

Stephanie Greer, a graduate student at the lab, said sleep deprivation significantly impaired activity in the frontal lobe, which is involved in controlling behavior and making complex choices. In other words, sleep deprivation doesn’t affect our basic desires, just our ability to control those desires. Said Greer:

It seems to be about the regions higher up in the brain, specifically within the frontal lobe, failing to integrate all the different signals that help us normally make wise choices about what we should eat.

She was quoted in another AASM news release.

Of course, it’s also true that when you’re asleep, you’re not eating and therefore not making unhealthy food choices. For some reason, neither study seems to have taken that into account.

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More brain-scan news from our Facebook page: why concussions affect people differently.

Related seminar: UCSF Current Concepts in Neuro and Musculoskeletal Imaging (all-new release coming June 15)

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