Weight gain… important treatment implications

Jun 8, 2015 | eating disorders, stress relief, weight management

‘After a night of bad sleep, the hormone that controls appetite is adversely affected, and emotional stress is heightened’

Disrupted or poor sleep patterns can have a significant impact on maintaining a healthy diet and increase the potential for overeating, with the possibility of long-term health issues for both adults and children. Research undertaken by Alyssa Lundahl and Timothy D Nelson of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, published in Journal of Health Psychology (June, 2015), hones in on the relatively little-studied question of how quality of sleep affects choices and degree of consumption when it comes to food intake.

The crux of Lundahl and Nelson’s study is that sleep, or a lack thereof, has a major bearing on one’s biological, emotional and cognitive mechanisms. After a night of bad sleep, the hormone that controls appetite is adversely affected, and emotional stress is heightened – a greater desire for food therefore arises as the body attempts to make up for its lack of energy. Control of impulses is also compromised as a result of poor sleep, leading to less conscious decision-making when selecting food options. Furthermore, Lundahl and Nelson point to studies suggesting that sleep deprivation heightens the brain’s reactivity to pleasurable sensation – the concept of reward sensitivity.

Lundahl and Nelson’s paper was an exhaustive multi-systemic analysis of existing research, integrating both adult and paediatric studies dating back more than 30 years. The authors point out, “Health psychologists should be mindful of the link between sleep and eating, and sleep should be actively considered in efforts to modify dietary behaviour.”

Dr David Marks, editor of Journal of Health Psychology, makes the further point that the study has “important treatment implications for health conditions often treated with dietary interventions.”

Alyssa Lundahl and Timothy D Nelson (2015). Sleep and food intake: A multisystem review of mechanisms in children and adults. Journal of Health Psychology, 20 (6), 794-805 http://hpq.sagepub.com/content/20/6/794