Sleep deprivation caused participants in a recent study to crave fatty, high-calorie foods, in a similar fashion to smoking marijuana.
Make sure you get enough sleep unless you want to suffer a case of the munchies. That’s according to a new study that finds sleep deprivations triggers the same primal desires for salty and sweet foods as smoking cannabis does.
Previous research has linked not getting enough sleep with nighttime snacking and junk food cravings. But study published in eLife journal last week examined the neural pathways that connected munchie symptoms and sleep deprivation. When individuals received only four hours of sleep instead of the recommended eight hours, it increased certain compounds in the body’s endocannabinoid system that want high-calorie foods.
The endocannabinoid system, or ECS for short, regulates various biological processes to like sleep, appetite, internal temperature, and more. All mammals have an ECS, not just humans. These functions receive adjustments through endocannabinoids, which your body creates naturally and similar to the phytocannabinoids in marijuana. When you smoke marijuana, it activates these receptors, making your body crave high-calorie foods. According to this study, sleep deprivation works much in the same way.
To begin the study, researchers asked 25 subjects to receive seven to nine hours of sleep each night for a week. The following week researchers randomly assigned half of the participants to sleep four hours certain nights and kept the other half on standard sleep schedules. In a cruel temptation, researchers then had everyone from the study eat from a buffet, where their food choices were monitored, included what foods they ate and how much of it.
Sleep deprivation didn’t necessarily increase the amount of food participants ate, the study found. But it did affect the kinds of foods they chose, often opting for fattier and higher-calorie foods.
“Importantly, effects of sleep deprivation on dietary behavior persisted into the next day (after a night of unrestricted recovery sleep), with a higher percentage of calories consumed,” researchers wrote.
Scientists also conducted fMRI scans regularly throughout the study to track the brain’s olfactory system. Participants were exposed to a variety of odors and were tracked for their reactions. Those who were sleep deprived had far stronger reactions to food odor than all other odors.
“Taken together, our findings show that sleep-dependent changes in food choices are associated with changes in an olfactory pathway that is related to the ECS,” researchers wrote. “This pathway is likely not restricted to sleep-dependent changes in food intake but may also account for dietary decisions more generally. In this regard, our current findings may help to guide the identification of novel targets for treatments of obesity.”