Lack of sleep affects a person's ability to choose proper foods, says a new study presented at SLEEP 2012.

The small study was based on brain scans of 23 participants. The study had two sessions. In session one, the participants got a full night's sleep. In session 2, participants were deprived of sleep.

MRI scans of the participants were taken at end of both sessions. They were asked to rate what food item they'd like to eat while still inside the scanner.

The results of the study showed that when sleep deprived, people tend to eat unhealthy food. This happens because the frontal lobe that is responsible for making complex choices is impaired. The research team found that the brain region involved with reward process was not involved at this point of time, rather the decision to eat unhealthy came from the fact that the frontal lobe of the brain wasn't gathering information about the taste versus health factor.

"Our goal was to see if specific regions of the brain associated with food processing were disrupted by sleep deprivation," said Stephanie Greer, a graduate student at the Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory at the University of California, and lead author of the study.

"We did not find significant differences following sleep deprivation in brain areas traditionally associated with basic reward reactivity. Instead, it seems to be about the regions higher up in the brain, specifically within the frontal lobe, failing to integrate all the different signals that help us normally make wise choices about what we should eat," said Greer.

"These results shed light on how the brain becomes impaired by sleep deprivation, leading to improper food choices," Greer added.

The relation between sleep and obesity has been studied by many researchers. Previous studies showed that short sleep duration was found to be independently associated with weight gain among all age groups.

Shorter duration of sleep makes people eat more, especially food that is high in fat. When people do not get enough exercise to use this extra food, they tend to store it in their bodies.

According to the study shorter duration of sleep might actually increase BMI, as the genetic factors are more likely to be expressed when a person is sleep deprived.

Recent study had suggested that "social jet lag", where a person loses sleep over social responsibilities, raises risk of obesity.