You know that sleep plays a vital role in health and weight loss, but did you know skimping on shut-eye can actually give you the same type of “munchies” people experience when they use marijuana? It sounds crazy, but it’s true! While science has long linked lack of sleep to overeating, weight gain, and obesity, a recent study conducted at the University of Chicago found that sleep deprivation actually increases our bodies levels of cannabis-like chemicals called endocannabinoids, or 2-AG. Endocannabinoids are responsible for the pleasure we experience whenever we eat and they go partially wild when we consume something sweet, salty, or fatty. “We know that marijuana activates the endocannabinoid system and causes people to overeat when they are not hungry, and they normally eat yummy sweet and fatty foods,” explains lead author Erin C. Hanlon, Ph.D. “Sleep restriction may cause overeating by acting in the same manner.”
The small study involved 14 adults ages 18 to 30. During the four days they spent at the university’s sleep center, half of the volunteers were allowed to doze for eight and half hours per evening while the other participants were only allowed four and a half hours of shut-eye. The volunteers were given three carefully measured meals per day. However, on the final day of the study, no one was given a meal until 3 p.m., at which point they were allowed to eat whatever they wanted from a snack buffet. The sleep-deprived participants, who had 33 more 2-AG in their system than their well-rested counterparts, ate more than double the amount of fat from unhealthy snacks like chips and ice cream. Normally, blood levels of endocannabinoids are low overnight and then rise slowly throughout the day, peaking in the early afternoon (hence, why you get those daily 3 p.m. cravings). For the sleep-deprived group, however, levels reached higher peaks and remained elevated throughout the night, making it harder for them to resist the unhealthy treats.
Sound like your daily struggle? If you can’t fit in the recommended seven to nine hours of shut-eye every night (hey, life happens), don’t sweat it. We’ve got you covered. Here are three simple—yet super effective ways—to ways to ward off those pesky “sleep munchies.”
Now that you know the diet-derailing side effects of a poor night’s sleep, "anticipate your extra appetite boost and head it off by planning on extra large portions of vegetables (like these Best Vegetables for Muscle and Strength), staying fully hydrated, and ensuring you get a lean protein source with each meal to aid in satiety," says registered dietitian Georgie Fear.
The study found that tired people crave sugar and fat, so when your afternoon cravings kick in, reach for something naturally fruit (like fruit) and a healthy source of fat (like nuts or Greek yogurt) instead of diet-derailing vending machine treats.
A study in the journal Physiology & Behavior suggests that 60 percent of the time we respond to thirst, it’s by eating, instead of drinking. To find out if you’re dehydrated, look at your pee. If it’s yellow you should sip before you snack. If you’re still hungry after consuming a solid 16-ounces of water, allow yourself to have a healthy snack.