Weight Gain: Sleep Deprivation Can Lead To Same Junk Food Cravings As Marijuana, Study Finds

Your lack of sleep may be giving you the munchies and according to a new study, is now being linked to weight gain and obesity.

According to an article by Glamour Health, not only does a lack of sleep leave you feeling foggy and drowsy throughout the day, it has now been associated with higher risks of weight gain and obesity because it may activate the endocannabinoid (eCB) system, leading to an increase desire for junk food.

Supported in part by NIH's National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) and National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), the study's results were published in the March, 2016, issue of Sleep.

The study found that sleep deprivation has effects in the body similar to activation of the endocannabinoid (eCB) system, which helps the brain regulate appetite and energy levels.

The endocannabinoid (eCB) system is also activated by chemicals found in marijuana and can affect the brain's motivation and reward circuits, which can ignite a desire for tasty foods and explains why people smoking marijuana tend to get the munchies.

According to NIH, a group of researchers led by Drs. Erin Hanlon and Eve Van Cauter at the University of Chicago hoped to find a biological link between sleep, weight gain, and obesity.

In the study, 14 healthy, non-obese people aged 18 to 30 — 11 men and three women— were put on a fixed diet and allowed either a normal 8.5 hours of sleep or a restricted 4.5 hours of sleep for four consecutive days.

All of the subjects were monitored in a controlled clinical setting to assure that they slept the required amount of hours.

Blood samples were drawn from the subjects beginning on the afternoon after the second night's sleep.

The sleep-deprived participants had eCB levels in the afternoons that were both higher and lasted longer than when they'd had a full night's rest, and happened at the same time that they reported increases in hunger and appetite.

On the final night, the subjects fasted until the next afternoon, when they were permitted to choose their own meals and snacks for the rest of the day.

Both the sleep-deprived participants and those who slept longer consumed about 90 percent of their daily calories at their first meal. However, those sleep-deprived consumed more and unhealthier snacks in between meals when eCB levels were at their peak.

The findings suggest that eCBs were driving pleasure-driven eating and could lead to obesity.

Hanlon says people that encounter junk food when they've had sufficient rest tend to control their responses to temptations.
"If you're sleep deprived, your hedonic drive for certain foods gets stronger, and your ability to resist them may be impaired. So you are more likely to eat it. Do that again and again, and you pack on the pounds."
While the study is limited in scope because of the small sample size, the findings back up the findings from other research about sleep and weight gain.

The researcher hope to expand their research to look at how changes in eCB levels and timing are affected by other internal and external factors, including the body's internal clock or meal schedules.

About 65 percent of Americans are now overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The number of obese adults (those with a Body Mass Index of 30 or more) jumped from 15 percent in 1980 to 27 percent in 1999. More than 15 percent of children from 6 to 19 years were overweight in 2000, which is three times higher than in 1980.

In a 1999 study, scientists at the University of Chicago found that building up a sleep debt over a matter of days can impair metabolism and disrupt hormone levels.

After restricting 11 healthy young adults to four hours' sleep for six nights, researchers found their ability to process glucose (sugar) in the blood had declined — in some cases to the level of diabetics.

So, forget the crazy fad diets and begin the fight against obesity and weight gain with an adequate amount of sleep.

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