By Samantha Bove
It’s no secret that many Americans do not get enough sleep.
While crankiness, fogginess, poor brain functioning and cognitive awareness have been linked to sleep deprivation for years, millions of Americans continue to ignore the side effects. But what if their waistline depended on it?
Erin Hanlon, research associate and study author at the University of Chicago, wanted to investigate the connection, so she examined two groups of participants: one group with sleep deprivation, and one group without.
The study reveals that lack of sleep and the subsequent feelings of exhaustion may have a direct correlation with the foods you crave when you’re sleepy.
Spoiler alert: After that Netflix binge last night, your body is more likely to reach for the Kit Kats than the carrot sticks. But why is this?
The researchers examined the levels of the chemicals in the brain that are linked to the regulation of appetite, known as endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids are the reason why “munchies” exist.
The researchers focused on measuring 2AG, a specific endocannabinoid, and then analyzed the levels of hunger throughout the day in the blood of participants who received a normal amount versus a limited amount of sleep.
The groups that received the average 8.5 hours of sleep for four consecutive nights showed a steady increase of 2AG in the blood throughout the day. It then peaked in the early afternoon, when most people typically begin to feel hungry.
However, the subjects in the restricted sleep group, having only 4.5 hours of sleep for four consecutive nights, showed very different results.
According to Hanlon, “not only did researchers note greater increases in 2AG concentration that lasted into the late evening, but participants were also hungrier and more likely to eat unhealthy snacks.”
In the last phase of the experiment, the participants were given one healthy meal along with an assortment of junk food items such as cookies, candy, and chips.
People who were sleep deprived were drawn to food items with greater levels of fat, protein, and carbohydrates.
This suggests that not only does lack of sleep cause you to become hungrier, but that the lack of zzz’s may also lead to unhealthier food choices.
“We are trying to get out awareness that people need to think of adequate sleep as an important aspect of maintaining good health,” Hanlon says.
The adverse effects of inadequate sleep have been well-documented, and now it seems like dark undereye circles may not be the only thing to worry about as researchers begin to understand the connection between sleep deprivation and poor food choices.
If you’re watching your waistline, you might also want to be watching the clock — to make sure you’re getting enough sleep every night.