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Why you want to buy junk food when you are tired

13-12-2013

Why you want to buy junk food when you are tired

Do you feel like buying junk food when you are tired? Don’t worry, you are not alone in this and, even better, there is a scientific reason for this urge, which doesn't make it any easier to curb but at least can make you feel better if you can’t resist.

If you are sleep deprived then you should try and avoid doing any food shopping. The reason? You will probably end up buying more junk food than you would if you went when you were well rested. How come you may very well ask? The reason for this is that when you are sleep deprived you actually crave junky foods. It turns out that sleep helps to regulate the appetite and with a lack of sleep you not only have an increased appetite but you want to eat worse types of food as well.

Recently some researchers in Sweden conducted an interesting experiment using a mock supermarket. They found that people who were sleep deprived were more likely to choose junk food than when they were well rested. This research is back up by other studies that have looked at the different hormone levels of well rested and sleep deprived people. There are two different hormones that play a role in regulating the appetite and their levels change dramatically depending on whether a person has slept or not.

One of these hormones is call ghrelin, which increases hunger levels. Studies have found that sleep deprivation leads to increased blood levels of ghrelin and that people with enhanced levels of ghrelin are not only hungrier but that they also crave particular types of foods such as fatty and sugary foods. The other hormone is called  leptin. Leptin is a mediator of long-term regulation of energy balance, helping to suppress people’s food intake and thereby inducing weight loss. Studies show that people who have slept well will have more leptin in their bodies.

The Swedish supermarket study wanted to test the change in appetite, and in particular the change in taste so they gave 14 normal-weight men a fixed budget and told them to buy as much as they could from a possible 40 items, including 20 high-caloric foods and 20 low-calorie foods.

The researchers then varied the prices of the high-caloric foods to determine if total sleep deprivation affects the flexibility of food purchasing. The participants received breakfast before the task to reduce the effect of hunger on their buying habits. They found that the sleep-deprived men bought 9 percent more calories and 18 percent more grams of food than they did after one night of sleep. In other words, they were more likely to buy unhealthy food when they had not slept properly.

As well as telling us that shopping when you are tired is not a good idea, these findings point to a far deeper truth. If you are struggling with your weight, and in particular have difficulty with your appetite, then you might need to sleep more. Sleep and appetite are intimately linked.


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