Maybe you shouldn’t shouldn’t believe in the old adage “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”
Have you ever gotten a horrible night’s sleep and woke up the next day craving just about everything that’s bad for you — donuts, cookies, soda, the works?
Scientists now have a physiological explanation: not getting enough sleep can give you the munchies, similar to the effects of smoking marijuana.
The findings, published in the journal Sleep, reveal that sleep deprivation alters the endocannabinoid system — receptors in the body that affect the regulation of hormones and immune function — which is also affected after smoking weed.
The study included 14 young men and women, and over the course of four nights, six of the participants slept a normal average of about 7.5 hours, while the other eight only got about four hours of sleep. All of the participants consumed the same number of calories per day.
The study volunteers were asked to rate their levels of hunger, mood, appetite, and alertness. Using hourly blood samples, the researchers checked this self-reported data against measurements of various compounds in the body, like cortisol, a stress hormone that wakes the body up.
The researchers focused on 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), which is an endocannabinoid involved in the body’s regulation of appetite and energy — it also happens to be targeted by the active agent in marijuana. They observed that 2-AG levels varied much more throughout the day in the people who didn’t get enough sleep.
Getting the “sleep munchies” doesn’t just mean that you’ll eat more — you’ll also crave more junk foods, which was exhibited by the study participants. After the four nights, the participants were allowed to choose anything to eat from a buffet. The sleep-deprived participants went for the “highly palatable, rewarding snacks,” according to the study authors.
In an interview with the Washington Post, researcher Erin Hanlon from the University of Chicago said, “What we found is that it's not just about energy homeostasis but also for the reward or pleasurable aspects of hedonistic eating.”
It’s important to note that the study involved a small sample size and only lasted for a short duration, but the researchers think these results are highly applicable to everyday life. A Gallup poll found that 40 percent of Americans get less than the recommended amount of sleep per night, and about 35 percent of Americans are obese — could there be a link?
"The large overarching message is sleep restriction and sleep deficiency have been associated with multiple deleterious outcomes, and it’s important for us to realize that adequate sleep is an important aspect of maintaining good health," Hanlon said. "People who believe in the old adage 'I'll sleep when I’m dead' need to revisit their thinking."
Need some science-backed tips on how to get a better night’s sleep? Check them out here.