If you’re having trouble losing weight, the solution may be as easy as getting a good night sleep. As recent studies demonstrate, there are many different ways that sleepiness harms your body.

junk food and dietWhen you’re tired, you are more likely to make bad decisions, like eating too much junk food or skipping exercise. Research also shows that lack of sleep leads to changes in certain gut hormones that regulate hunger. This may contribute to weight gain, obesity and diabetes, among other problems. And newer research even suggests that in addition to affecting the gut, our brain chemistry is also directly impacted by the amount we sleep.

Sleep Affects the Brain

Sleep deprivation may affect the brain in 2 distinct, but related, ways. One mechanism involves heightened activity in the brain’s pleasure-seeking regions. The second is a reduction in activity in the decision-making regions. Together, these spell trouble for anyone who skimps on their sleep. (And isn’t that most of us these days?)

Participants in research done at Columbia University were given MRI’s after getting 8 hours of sleep, and again after getting only 4 hours. When they were shown images of food, the pleasure-seeking areas of their brains were more active when they were sleep deprived. Additionally, this affect was even more notable with pictures of junk food than with healthier choices. Why would this be so? Researchers hypothesize that sleepy people may crave the additional energy available in the higher calorie, junk foods.

Another recent study, this one from University of California, showed that lack of sleep may interfere with higher decision-making functions, by reducing brain activity in these regions.

These results are not surprising by themselves, since there are other studies in this area, for example, research showing that driving while sleep deprived can be equivalent to driving while drunk. But these new studies do add to the growing body of evidence that sleep deprivation is unhealthy in many, many ways.

Here is some more of the latest evidence of the impact of lack of sleep.

Tips for Getting a Better Night’s Sleep

  • Stick to a schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Set up a ritual. An hour before bedtime, turn off your computer, cell phone and TV. Read, meditate, journal or take a warm bath instead.
  • Turn off the lights. Light (especially the blue wavelengths from your electronics) suppresses the body’s production of melatonin, the sleep hormone.
  • Avoid eating after dinner, but especially late in the evening. And avoid caffeine late in the day.
  • Exercise daily, but not too close to bedtime.