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The answer to your weird cravings could be sleepless nights.

The answer to your weird cravings could be sleepless nights.

Have you ever snacked at midnight or needed pizza to get through a late night of work? There may be a scientific reason for your cravings. According to a new study published in the journal Sleep, there's something in our bloodstream that makes eating food more pleasurable — and it's influenced by how much sleep we get.

A team of researchers from the University of Chicago found that getting less than five hours of sleep a night produces more of the chemical endocannabinoid in our bloodstreams, a lipid allegedly responsible for the pleasure we feel when eating.

By analyzing the blood samples of 14 young and healthy adults, the researchers found that a particular type of endocannabinoid, known as 2-AG, is influenced by lack of sleep. 2-AG levels fluctuate naturally, typically peaking in the early afternoon. However, the research saw that sleep deprivation prolonged this peak and brought it on sooner. 

The sleep deprivation-induced changes could prompt the ingestion of more "palatable foods," Erin Hanlon, the study's author, told NPR.

"We found that sleep restriction boosts a signal that may increase the hedonic aspect of food intake," Hanlon said.

Hanlon and her team divided the study into two four-day parts. In the first four days, participants followed a normal sleep schedule of 8.5 hours a night. In the second second session, they went to bed and were woken up at strange hours, getting, at most, only 4.5 hours of sleep a night. In both sessions, participants were offered an array of food, including junk food like candy and chips. The researchers found that when their subjects were sleep deprived, they consumed 400 more calories from snacks.

According to Frank Scheer, a chronobiologist at Harvard Medical School, this study's findings on the effect of sleep on endocannabinoids are groundbreaking. While it's not the first to suggest that sleep deprivation can contribute to weight gain, it provides clarification on how that relationship operates.

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