The Strange Link Between The Munchies & A Bad Night's Sleep

Photographed by Alexandra Gavillet.
Are you ever so tired that you almost feel high? Well, there might be more to that than you think.

Researchers have long known that poor sleep is associated with increased appetite and weight gain. But a new study suggests that the same chemical mechanism behind the munchies might be why sleep-deprived people not only feel hungrier, but also become powerless in the face of Doritos.

For the study, recently published online in the journal Sleep, the researchers recruited 14 participants between the ages of 18 and 30. All of them got four nights of either normal (8.5 hours) or interrupted sleep (4.5 hours). Then, the researchers gave them two meals and unrestricted access to all kind of snacks, with both healthy (e.g., fruit and yogurt) and less-healthy options (e.g., Cheetos). Throughout the day, the researchers also monitored participants' levels of endocannabinoids. These are chemicals that your body naturally creates that just so happen to activate the same receptors that marijuana latches onto to create a high.

Although participants consumed about the same number of calories, those who had been sleep-deprived reported feeling hungrier and tended to eat the less-healthy snacks. In fact, they ended up eating about double the fat and protein of the well-rested participants. And although both groups showed the same daily ebb and flow of endocannabinoid levels, those sleepy participants had an exaggerated cycle, with an especially high level in the afternoon — around the same time they reported feeling their hungriest.

This was a small study, but these results do suggest just how much not getting enough sleep can mess with your body.

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