Some days, you just have the munchies. The candy aisle calls. That brand-new bag of potato chips “mysteriously” becomes empty. And eating your apple a day? Only if it’s slathered in Nutella and peanut butter!
Now, new research published in the journal SLEEP shows that skipping out on sleep really triggers cravings.
Enter the Sleep Lab
For the study, University of Chicago researchers examined the effects of sleep deprivation on 14 healthy men and women during a series of two four-day visits to the lab. During the first visit, the study participants averaged 7.5 hours of sleep per night and, during the second visit, 4.2 hours. During each visit, they received identical meals at 9 am, 2 pm and 7 pm.
But when they got less sleep, they wanted way more food than that. In fact, when researchers offered the study participants snacks after the fourth night of restricted sleep, they had trouble stopping themselves from feasting and opted for snacks that contained, on average, twice the amount of fat compared to the snacks they chose after the fourth night of the normal sleep phase. And that was despite eating a huge meal that met 90 percent of their daily calorie needs just two hours prior.
Why So Snacky?
“There’s a lot of discussion around the impact of stress on our diets and daily habits, but this exciting research takes us one step further, unearthing the cognitive connection between sleep deprivation and the daily struggle with snacking,” says Matthew Kuchan, PhD, global science lead for Abbott’s partnership with the Center for Nutrition, Learning and Memory (CNLM) at the University of Illinois.
“The study suggests that lack of sleep can trigger the brain to crave food when we’re not hungry, especially foods with higher fat content, and the results remind us that despite our busy and demanding lives, it’s important to give our bodies the nourishment and rest we need to stay healthy.”
Why so snacky? When sleep deprived, their levels of a naturally produced endocannabinoid jumped 33 percent higher than when they got enough sleep. Plus, the levels stayed elevated for hours throughout the late afternoon and evening. Endocannabinoids are the body’s own naturally produced version of cannabinoids, molecules that, in addition to other things, make you love overeating sweet, salty, and high-fat foods.
So if you want to fight off junk food cravings and eat healthier, you should make sleep a priority! And while you're at it, check out these five surprising ways sleep boosts your health: