What's the Connection Between Sleep and Overeating? | Tuft & Needle

August 12, 2020

Author: Shelly Weaver-Cather

Recently, there’s been a lot of focus on sleep and why you need more of it. It seems we’re constantly learning new ways in which our health suffers from sleep deprivation. Whether it’s impacting our ability to drive safely, perform at work, or recall memories–sleep has a lot of control over our health.

Why am I hungrier when I haven’t slept?

A lot of us might notice after a long night of tossing and turning, we’re munchier throughout the day. It isn’t all in your head, there’s a lot going on at night within your body, and a big reason we need to sleep is to help regulate our hormones. There are two in particular that are tied to our appetites–ghrelin and leptin.

Ghrelin is a hormone that helps our bodies stimulate appetite and hunger signals. Leptin decreases our appetite and helps us know when we’re full. Both of these hormones are regulated by deep, restorative sleep. When our bodies are sleep deprived, our ghrelin levels spike, and our leptin levels fall, which causes our appetite to increase. This can create a need to snack throughout the day that we wouldn’t otherwise feel.

Is it true that sleep deprivation can cause the munchies?

One of the common side effects of cannabis is feeling a need to snack, but it wasn’t until very recently that we started to understand why. In 1990, researchers found that a complex cell-signaling system called the endocannabinoid system (ECS) aids in the regulation of many functions of our bodies. Even without the presence of cannabis in your body, your ECS is still active and playing a role in mood, appetite, sleep, memory, and fertility. It is thought that the use of cannabis activates these functions in a similar way to natural endocannabinoids. In lab mice, after 24 hours without eating, their bodies produced these endocannabidnoids to stimulate hunger.

Similarly, researchers believe that sleep deprivation causes endocannabinoids to stimulate your sleep drive, and it may have a similar effect on your appetite. As the amount of sleep you get falls, the levels of these natural lipids in your body rise and kick off a chain reaction that makes you feel like you need to eat, but it typically causes cravings for sugary and carb-heavy foods. People who are chronically sleep deprived tend to eat almost twice as much fat and an extra 300 calories a day when compared to people who get at least eight hours of sleep per night.

The cycle of sleep deprivation and overeating

A study by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that not only do people who lost sleep eat more the next day, but people who eat higher fat and carb diets tend to take longer to fall asleep at night, and get lower quality of rest. Poor sleep leads to other health effects outside of weight gain and appetite changes. In fact, sleep impacts just about every aspect of our holistic health, and can be the root cause of a lot of health problems.

Maintaining a healthy relationship with your sleep pattern is imperative to feeling healthy, and can have huge impacts on your overall health.

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