We all know the feeling. After a long night out, it’s all you can do to resist grabbing a donut or breakfast burrito on the way into work the next morning. There’s a reason why your sleep-deprived body craves greasy junk food to refuel, and it’s not just because last night’s tequila cocktails are exacting their revenge. Yes, sleep has restorative effects on our bodies, minds, and relationships, but here’s one more benefit of catching more zzz’s: maintaining your weight.
A study published in SLEEP found that when subjects were sleep deprived (~4.5 hours of sleep per night), they produced higher levels of lipids called endocannabinoids. Your endocannabinoid system (ECS) regulates a number of functions including mood, memory, and appetite. When endocannabinoids levels are raised, the result is increased appetite and desire for palatable (AKA most likely not healthy) food. Endocannabinoids also bind to the active ingredient in marijuana, stimulating hunger and causing “the munchies.” Basically, being sleep deprived and being high have similar biological effects on your body: You tend to crave sweet and fatty foods, and a lot of them, because they make you feel good. If your sleepy self is mindlessly reaching for a candy bar instead of some carrots, we get it.
Another recent study presented at the Cognitive Neuroscience Society’s annual meeting found that sleep deprivation causes your brain to be more sensitive to food smells. Adults who were operating on four hours of sleep a night inhaled both food (cinnamon rolls and potato chips) and nonfood (fir tree) smells while undergoing MRIs. When the subjects were tired, the food smells caused increased activity in the piriform context (the region of the brain that perceives smells) and the orbitofrontal cortex (the region involved in cognitive decision-making). The study showed that when you’re sleepy, food actually smells better to you and you’re more likely to want to snack. The same result was not seen for the nonfood odors; unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like you can trick a tired body into going to the gym or doing laundry.
So it’s not just your imagination — your body really is craving (and enjoying!) more junk food when you’re tired. Just another reason to keep hitting the snooze button.
What are your favorite foods when you’re sleepy? Share them with us @BritandCo!
(Photo via Getty)