Have you ever noticed that you’re more tired after a poor night’s sleep? There may be a reason for that, and the endocannabinoid system seems to be involved. Recent research shows that cannabis may not be the only thing to give you the munchies. Here’s why sleep munchies are a real thing.
Fatigue and hunger
There’s a lot that goes on in the body while we sleep. Toxins are cleaned out, growth hormone is released, and the body repairs itself.
We humans (and other living beings) have a special internal clock that regulates when it’s time to sleep and wake up. It also perfectly times our hunger signals to respond to this circadian rhythm.
When we lose sleep or force ourselves to stay awake when we are tired, we mess up this internal clock. Turns out, this can make us extra hungry.
A recent study has found that getting 5 hours of sleep or less causes a spike in an endocannabinoid that makes us hungry.
Endocannabinoids are the body’s own cannabis, a herb with a reputation for giving you the munchies. This appetite increase occurs because compounds in the cannabis plant directly engage the same cell receptors as our own endocannabinoids, which control appetite and metabolism.
The study shows that when you lose sleep, levels of the endocannabinoid 2-AG spike. Normally, 2-AG rises slowly through the day and peaks in the early afternoon. With sleep deprivation, however, levels of this compound spike much higher and the elevation lasts longer.
In theory, this spike causes you to crave more palatable foods. Think plenty of fatty, carby, and sugary snacks.
Study author Erin Hanlon tells NPR,
We found that sleep restriction boosts a signal that may increase the hedonic aspect of food intake.
Basically, restricting sleep causes you to gain more pleasure out of eating. Funny thing, psychoactive THC does the same thing. The cannabinoid amps up your dopamine and kickstarts the release of the hunger hormone ghrelin.
This is one reason why you might frequently find yourself perusing around in your kitchen after a cannabis sesh.
The study was conducted at the University of Chicago Medical Center. 14 healthy, young adults participated. All of them were normal sleepers, typically getting about 8 hours a night. To research the effects of sleep deprivation, the participants were examined in two cycles.
For 4 days, the participants were allowed to sleep a normal 8.5 hours per night. Alternately, they spent 4 days on a chaotic sleep schedule. Participants went to bed at 1am and were up again at 5:30am. That’s a maximum 4.5 hours of sleep.
Fortunately, the participants had access to a buffet with plenty of tasty snacks during the entire experiment. When the participants were sleep-deprived, they consumed about 400 calories more than they did when they got ample rest. That’s quite a big difference, 20% of your standard 2000 diet.
So, are sleep munchies a real thing? It sure seems like it. A 20% increase in total caloric consumption is a significant amount. If you’re hoping to watch your weight or stick to a diet, this evidence suggests that getting enough sleep will definitely help. If not, you might find yourself grazing all day.