Sleep Deprivation and Food Consumption

Acute sleep deprivation linked to impaired food purchasing judgment among men

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Many people think it is unwise to go grocery shopping on an empty stomach; doing so might lead to some poor food choices. Could the same happen when shopping after a poor night's rest?

A recent study found that sleep deprived men purchased significantly more calories and grams of food than when they had a full night's sleep.

The study also found that sleep deprived men had increased levels of a hormone called ghrelin, which is linked to increased hunger. However, the increased levels of ghrelin were not linked to the effects of sleep deprivation on food purchasing behavior.

The researchers suggested that people can help eliminate poor eating habits by maintaining a healthy sleep schedule.

"Maintain a regular sleep schedule."

Christian Benedict, PhD, of the Department of Neuroscience at Uppsala University in Uppsala, Sweden, and colleagues aimed to determine the effects of sleep deprivation on food purchasing choices.

The study consisted of 14 men who were an average 23 years of age and had a normal weight.

The researchers examined the food choices participants made on two separate occasions four weeks apart.

For one part of the study, the researchers examined the food purchasing choices made by participants who had slept eight hours the night before. On a separate occasion, the study examined the food purchasing choices made by the same participants after they had not sleep at all the night before.

The participants received a standard breakfast in the morning in order to ensure hunger did not contribute to their food purchasing choices.

On both occasions, participants were given $50 each and instructed to purchase as much as they could from a selection of 40 different food items. Exactly 20 of the items were low-calorie foods, and the other 20 items were high-calorie foods.

The low-calorie items had less than 2 calories per gram of food. The high-calorie items had more than 2 calories per gram of food.

The researchers found that when the participants were sleep deprived, they purchased 9 percent more calories and 18 percent more grams of food in the morning than they did after sleeping for eight hours.

The design of the study was not without its risk of bias, however. It is possible that the experiment itself had an abnormal affect on the participants' behavior, which might not have occurred in their everyday environment. 

Nevertheless, the study sheds light on one of the many factors that contributes to weight gain.

In a press statement, Colin Chapman, MSc, of Uppsala University and first author of the study, stated, “Our finding provides a strong rationale for suggesting that patients with concerns regarding caloric intake and weight gain maintain a healthy, normal sleep schedule.”

This study was published online September 5 in the journal Obesity and was funded by the Swedish Research Council, Swedish Brain Research Foundation and the Novo Nordisk Foundation. The authors declared no conflicts of interest. 

Review Date: 
September 5, 2013
Last Updated:
September 9, 2013