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Sleep-Deprived Brain is More Sensitive to Food Odours

When you’re sleep-deprived, your brain is more responsive to food odours, says a new study recently presented at the Cognitive Neuroscience Society annual meeting.

Sleep & Smells

Humans are wired to find rest in sleep, and when we don’t get a sufficient amount of it, our bodies feel it, and generate responses. The new research conducted by a team from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago shows that the nose (the brain, rather) reacts in a funny way when we’re sleep-deprived.

Lack of sleep appears to enhance the sensitivity of the brain to food odours. This, in turn, might cause snacks to be more tempting, potentially leading to an increased consumption in food, and thus in weight.

Food smells better, and so you grow fatter!

Participants of the study were a group of adults who had only 4 hours of sleep on the day of the experiment. They were made to inhale the odours of foods like potato chips and cinnamon rolls as well as non-food smells such as fir trees. While they were working out their sense of smell, MRI scans were being performed on them. The same experiment was repeated a second time weeks later, when the volunteers had 8 hours of sleep. It is to be noted that their food consumption was carefully monitored throughout the 2 days by the researchers.

The findings show that food odours would generate greater brain activity in 2 olfaction-related regions of the brain when the participants were tired. This was in contrast with a lower activity in response to food smells when they had enough sleep. Moreover, this increase in activity was not observed when the participants inhaled non-food odours, explains co-author Surabhi Bhutani.

Link with weight gain and obesity in other studies

These results are only preliminary ones, but they seem to be in line with previous studies; for instance, a 2013 paper suggests that sleep deprivation makes food more desirable. Another study mentions that there is increasing evidence supporting the link between sleep loss and obesity.

So, you better get some good sleep if you don’t want your nose (brain) to fool you into eating more!


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