9:13 PM EDT, April 25, 2012
Here's a new spin on the saying, "If you snooze you lose."
What if the "lose" part applied to your weight? No, it's not as simple as going to sleep and waking up slimmer. Alas.
But a recent Harvard study does suggest that people who get a good night's rest find it easier to resist overeating — especially when it comes to gorging on high-calorie foods like ice cream, cheeseburgers or French fries.
We all know the temptation: You're drowsy during the day, get hungry and head to the snacks aisle or a vending machine for junk food or a candy bar.
"Daytime sleepiness was positively related to greater hunger and elevated preference for high-calorie foods," concluded the study, led by researcher William Killgore, an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School.
MRIs of study volunteers showed why. Sleepier people had less activity in the self-control part of the brain — the prefrontal cortex. That's the area "that puts the brakes on and slows you down from doing things you shouldn't do"— like eating too much fattening, unhealthy food, says Killgore.
"If you're sleepy, you're more likely to reach out and take a few extra bites of food or go for that extra dessert or say yes to something you wouldn't have," says Killgore.
New preliminary findings show that women are even more inclined than men to overeat and to prefer junk food when they get sleepy during the day.
"People think they're so busy that, if they're going to chintz on something, they're going to cut out some sleep. And that's one thing they shouldn't do," says Killgore. "It affects our ability to control food intake.
"Twenty or 30 years of doing that is going to make us larger and more unhealthy."
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