- Rapid eye movement sleep loss leads to increased consumption of unhealthy foods, specifically those rich in sucrose and fat.
- Persons who are obese tend to have increased activity in the prefrontal cortex when exposed to high calorie foods.
- Inhibiting medial prefrontal cortex neurons may play a direct role in controlling the craving for sugary and high fat foods.
Sleep loss affects areas of the brain that control the desire to consume unhealthy foods but the reason behind it was unclear. Now, a new paper published in the journal eLife finds that rapid eye movement (REM) sleep loss leads to increased consumption of unhealthy foods, specifically sucrose and fat.
REM sleep is a unique phase of sleep in mammals that is closely associated with dreaming and characterized by random eye movement and almost complete paralysis of the body.
‘When we lack sleep, the region of the brain responsible for decision making may play a direct role in controlling our desire to consume foods high in sugar and fat.’
The researchers at the University of Tsukuba's International Institute for Integrative Sleep Medicine (IIIS) used a new method to produce REM sleep loss in mice along with a chemical-genetic technique to block prefrontal cortex neurons and the behaviors they mediate.
The prefrontal cortex plays a role in judging the palatability of foods through taste, smell and texture. As a result, the IIIS researchers discovered that inhibiting these neurons reversed the effect of REM sleep loss on sucrose consumption while having no effect on fat consumption.
Moreover, persons who are obese tend to have increased activity in the prefrontal cortex when exposed to high calorie foods. "Our results suggest that the medial prefrontal cortex may play a direct role in controlling our desire to consume weight promoting foods, high in sucrose content, when we are lacking sleep," says Kristopher McEown, the lead author on this project.
- Kristopher McEown et al., Direct link between REM sleep loss and the desire for sugary and fatty foods discovered, eLife (2016).