The Undergraduate Curse....Weary Weekdays and Obesity....Maybe


"Freshman fifteen" myth or reality? Reality...Somewhat. We all hear tales about how people go away to college and return home a lot heavier than they previously were because of all the junk food they've eaten. I myself, am guilty of this. Even though I've only been at state college for three weeks, I find myself eating a lot more than normal. In addition to my eating habits changing, my lifestyle in general has drastically changed. My sleeping patterns have changed and my behavior has changed as well in the sense that I am out longer than I usually am because I have classes during the day and I usually don't go back to my dorm in between them. I also go out on the weekends more than I normally would at home in New York. I wanted to know if these behavioral changes were affecting my diet. Being a female, I am a weight watcher by nature so I decided to look into this. Does sleeping less make you crave more unhealthy foods?

According to CNN "The Chart," lack of sleep can lead someone to seek out calorie-packed foods. Being a freshman, this perspective makes a lot of sense to me. For many of us, this is our first time away from home, our parents, and guardians. The college environment allows more freedom. In my opinion, we are drawn to staying up later and going out later because we are now independent and are running on our own time. We are no longer obligated to do anything we don't want to. For example, we no longer have to get up and go to school. Going to class is entirely dependent upon how we feel because professors don't make it their job to hunt students down. You either show up, or you don't. In addition, some students may stay up later during the week to finish up their work and compensate for going out on the weekend.

To test the effect lack of sleep has on unhealthy eating, researchers at Columbia did a study on twenty-five volunteers. The researchers used Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, which tracks blood flow in the brain. On one occasion, the volunteers were allowed eight hours of sleep and on the second test they were allowed four.   

"In each case, the researchers performed the scans while showing the volunteers images of unhealthy foods interspersed with healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and oatmeal. Brain networks associated with craving and reward were more active when the participants were sleep-deprived than when they were well-rested--especially when the participants viewed the images of unhealthy foods.

'The pleasure-seeking parts of the brain were stimulated after an individual was sleep-deprived,' says lead researcher Marie-Pierre St-Onge, Ph.D., a research associate at the university's New York Obesity Research Center. 'People went for foods like pepperoni pizza, cheeseburgers and cake.' "

To conclude, yes lack of sleep does lead one to make unhealthy food choices. One of the reasons why I don't doubt this claim is because the researchers noted that the pleasure-seeking parts of the brain were stimulated after an individual was sleep deprived. Being well rested and getting a good amount of sleep is considered a luxury to many people. When people don't get the pleasure of sleeping, they may look for pleasure in other places, in this case calorie-packed foods. 

This study has both elements of an experimental study and and observational study.It is observational because the researchers merely watched what happened as the volunteers got less sleep. The study could also be considered experimental because there was some manipulation included because for one test the volunteers slept for eight hours and for the other test they slept for four. We also see a direct correlation. Lack of sleep directly affects unhealthy eating habits. BUT correlation does not necessarily signify causation. Chances are there may be a series of other factors affecting our eating habits. The survey size was relatively small and everyone has a different eating pattern, metabolism, diet regime, workout plan and so forth so we must also take these factors into consideration.

In addition to my personal reasoning, researchers also pointed out that people who are tired are drawn to high-calorie foods because they are searching for a boost of energy that will help them get through the day. Another study that was also mentioned in CNN "The Chart," was done at the University of California, Berkley. 23 volunteers were deprived of sleep for twenty-four hours. The volunteers presented a stronger preference for unhealthy food when they were awake for twenty-four hours than when they were well-rested which strengthens the previous claim. The study also pointed out that while the pleasure-seeking areas of the brain were stimulated, the decision-making areas were diminished. People were drawn to the unhealthy foods because they were too tired to think otherwise or to select a better food choice.

The "Freshmen 15" and weight gain in general may be due largely to the fact that people don't get enough sleep. As young adults in a university setting, we want to work hard and play hard as well.Going out on the weekends or staying out later for activities during the week can drastically reduce the amount of sleep we get. In turn, we go for unhealthier foods. The undergraduate curse...Agree or disagree?


I definitely think sleep has a lot to do with the freshman 15. Sleep is incredibly important for the human body to function properly. Aside from making us more prone to indulging in high calorie, unhealthy foods, lack of sleep causes an alteration in hormones and the metabolism. Lack of sleep leads to an increase in the production of cortisol, which is involved in the productions of fat cells, which will lead to weight gain. So, not only is your appetite increased but you will gain weight whether you eat more or not.

I actually did not know about cortisol. Now that you mention that, I'm actually a little scared. So regardless of your calorie intake, you will still gain weight if you aren't sleeping enough? What I found really interesting was after I made the blog post I actually monitored my eating patterns for the past few days. When I came to state college, I would always have a light breakfast. I would have a granola bar and the fresh cut fruit from Good to Go in my dining commons. The last week however, I've gotten deeper into my classes and I've actually had a couple of assessments so I slept less. Starting thursday instead of having what I normally had (granola bar, fruit), I had a breakfast sandwich with sausage and cheese. The breakfast sandwich has a lot more calories than the fruit and granola bar. I didn't even notice I did that until I came back to the post, which is interesting. What do you think about the reverse effect? What about the effect of junk food on the quality of sleep? Do you think there is a relationship both ways?

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