TUESDAY, Jan. 24 (HealthDay News) -- Getting too little sleep can make you hungrier than normal and may lead to weight gain, a small study suggests.

The team at Uppsala University in Sweden used functional MRI to observe the brains of 12 normal weight males while they looked at images of food. This was done on two occasions -- after a night of normal sleep and after a night without sleep.

The results showed that a specific brain region that plays a role in appetite shows more activation in response to food images after a night without sleep than after a night of normal sleep.

This suggests that poor sleep habits can affect a person's risk of becoming overweight in the long run, according to the study published online Jan. 18 in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

"After a night of total sleep loss, these males showed a high level of activation in an area of the brain that is involved in a desire to eat," researcher Christian Benedict said in a university news release.

"Bearing in mind that insufficient sleep is a growing problem in modern society, our results may explain why poor sleep habits can affect people's risk to gain weight in the long run. It may therefore be important to sleep about eight hours every night to maintain a stable and healthy body weight," Benedict added.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about preventing weight gain.