Sleep can be a precious commodity for some. Whether it’s long work hours, hectic family life or just insomnia, losing sleep has consequences beyond just a few yawns and a slow start in the morning. Numerous studies have shown that a lack of sleep can cause memory issues, low productivity and even dangerous accidents. Sleep deprivation was cited
as a partial cause in disasters such as the meltdown at Three Mile Island, the accident at Chernobyl and even the grounding of the Exxon Valdez. New research from the University of Chicago now suggests that losing sleep can also make you overeat, not just out of boredom or fatigue but in response to a chemical signal that is similar to what happens in the brain when a person uses marijuana.
The study used volunteers that had been deprived of sleep. One group was allowed to sleep for 8.5 hours, the other group was woken up after only four hours of sleep. All were young and healthy, however despite being given a meal that supplied almost an entire days worth of necessary calories, the participants were unable to resist junk food if they had slept for half the time as their study counterparts. The snacks were all goodies that are most tempting, such as chips, candy and cookies, much like what the body craves after smoking pot.
The team at the Medicine and Biological Sciences Department of the university found that a specific level of a chemical in the blood known as the endocannabinoid 2-arachidonoylglycerol or 2-AG, which is normally low at night and rises slowly throughout the day, rose faster and higher in subjects that had not had a full night’s sleep. It also stayed at higher levels longer.
Dr. Erin Hanlon, PhD is a research associate in diabetes and metabolism at the university and in a press release
she said, “We found that sleep restriction boosts a signal that may increase the hedonic aspect of food intake, the pleasure and satisfaction gained from eating. Sleep restriction seems to augment the endocannabinoid system, the same system targeted by the active ingredient of marijuana, to enhance the desire for food intake.”
For the study
subjects who had 8 hours of sleep, the times they felt hungry corresponded with the peak levels of 2-AG in their blood. Their levels peaked at about 12:30pm and then declined steadily. For the sleep-deprived group however the levels rose almost 33 percent higher than those of the well-rested group and didn’t peak until about 2pm, remaining elevated until 9pm.
Hanlon told NBC News
"If you have a Snickers bar, and you've had enough sleep, you can control your natural response. But if you're sleep-deprived, your hedonic drive for certain foods gets stronger, and your ability to resist them may be impaired so you are more likely to eat it. Do that again and again, and you pack on the pounds."
The team wants to do further research to find out how the 2-AG endocannabinoids are being over-produced and if that mechanism can be manipulated. Check out the video below to learn more and find out how to avoid the trap of sleep-deprived munchies.