Sleepiness impairs brain control over rich foods

Daytime sleepiness is associated with decreased activation in the prefrontal cortex.

Last Updated: Jun 14, 2011, 14:54 PM IST

Washington: A study has suggested that daytime sleepiness may affect inhibitory control in the brain when viewing tantalizing, high-calorie foods.

Results show that greater daytime sleepiness was associated with decreased activation in the prefrontal cortex during visual presentations of enticing, high-calorie food images.

The prefrontal cortex is a brain region that plays an important role in inhibitory processing.

“Self-reported daytime sleepiness among healthy, normally rested individuals correlated with reduced responsiveness of inhibitory brain regions when confronted with images of highly appetizing foods,” principal investigator William Killgore, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass, said.

“It suggests that even normal fluctuations in sleepiness may be capable of altering brain responses that are important for regulating dietary intake, potentially affecting the types of choices that individuals make when selecting whether and what to eat,” he explained.

The research team of Killgore, lead author Melissa Weiner, and Zachary Schwab studied 12 healthy men and women between the ages of 19 and 45 years.

According to the authors, prior evidence suggests that healthy adults activate inhibitory regions of the prefrontal cortex in response to high-calorie food images.

However, insufficient sleep is often associated with reduced metabolic activity within these same prefrontal regions.

Killgore noted that the rapidly rising rate of obesity makes it important to understand the relationship between sleep-related factors, brain responses to food, and eating behaviour.

“Given the chronic level of sleep restriction in our society, such relationships could have epidemiologic implications regarding the current increase in obesity in westernised countries,” he added.

ANI