A new study has indicated that people tend to eat more and indulge in unhealthy food choices, when they suffer from sleep loss. University of Chicago Medical Center researchers have shown that how sleep loss could amplify and extend blood levels of a chemical signal that enhances the joy of eating, particularly the guilty pleasures gained from sweet or salty, high-fat snack foods.
The research found that sleep-deprived participants in this study, all young, healthy volunteers, were unable to resist what the researchers called “highly palatable, rewarding snacks,” meaning cookies, candy and chips, even though they had consumed a meal that supplied 90 percent of their daily caloric needs two hours before.
The effects of sleep loss on appetite was at his peak at the late afternoon and early evening, times when snacking has been linked to weight gain.
Erin Hanlon, PhD, a research associate in endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism at the University of Chicago said we have found that sleep restriction boosts a signal that may increase the hedonic aspect of food intake, the pleasure and satisfaction gained from eating.
He added that sleep restriction seems to augment the endocannabinoid system, the same system targeted by the active ingredient of marijuana, to enhance the desire for food intake.
This chemical signal is the endocannabinoid 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). Blood levels of 2-AG are typically low overnight. They slowly rise during the day, peaking in the early afternoon.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about a third of Americans get less than seven hours of sleep a night and more than a third of adults in the United States are obese. A 2013 Gallup poll found that U.S. adults sleep an average of 6.8 hours per night. Forty percent of adults report sleeping six hours or less.
The study has found that sleep restriction leads not only to increased caloric intake, but also result in changes in the hedonic aspects of food consumption. The increase in 2-AG following sleep restriction could be part of the mechanism by which people overeat.
The study is published in the journal of Sleep.