Snacking While Sleepy Is Like Getting The Munchies

There’s a reason a good night’s sleep is part of a healthy weight loss plan. The more sleep deprived you are, the more likely you are to crave junk food — and the more you’ll eat in general.

Scientists have chalked this up to simple energy needs: the longer you stay up, the more calories you need to fuel those waking hours. And some researchers have also found that a lack of sleep negatively affects insulin sensitivity, which in turn increases levels of appetite-stimulating hormones.

Now a new study on sleep deprivation and cravings, published in the journal Sleep, hints at yet another reason for those fatigue-linked food cravings: The sleepier you are, the higher your levels of endocannabinoids, the natural compounds your body produces to help regulate appetite by enhancing the “hedonic,” or pleasurable, aspects of eating in your brain.

Endocannabinoids are so-named because they bind to receptors in the brain that can also respond to the active ingredient in cannabis — you know, weed. They also help regulate stress, immune response and pain.

While the study’s lead researcher Erin Hanlon wouldn’t go so far as to say being sleep-deprived is like being high, as some other news organizations have suggested, she did say that sleep deprivation does appear to activate the endocannabinoid system and produce the same increased appetite.

In other words, getting too little sleep will give you the munchies.

“Sleep restriction seems to activate the endocannabinoid system, as does marijuana,” Hanlon explained. “That is perhaps how [sleepy people] are getting these increases in eating and appetite.”

In the small study, 14 healthy, normal-weight adults aged 18 to 30 were randomized to either one of two states. The first group, in the “normal sleep” setting, got to spend 8.5 hours a night —> Read More