Lack of a good night’s sleep is not something that goes unnoticed. You probably experience the consequences right away. The morning is rough, you wake up groggy and lethargic. No amount of coffee can keep you running until lunch.
Sleep is the one thing that everyone needs but that most people take for granted. Getting at seven to eight hours of sleep per night is recommended to keep you sharp, agile and healthy. Although the consequences of poor sleep can be felt immediately, there are long-term, less noticeable consequences that affect your health and your weight. It all has to do with the chemicals signals in your body.
In a study published by the Sleep Research Society, researchers wanted to see how lack of sleep can lead to unhealthy food choices and weight gain. The study is based on the theory that less sleep stimulates hunger and food intake that is greater than the energy needed to stay awake longer.
What the researchers wanted to evaluate in particular was how sleep restriction affected a chemical that is naturally produced in the brain that regulates appetite. These chemicals are called endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids have an inverse relationship with a hormone called leptin, the hormone in your body that tells you that you’re full. So when leptin is decreased, endocannabinoids are increased.
The study involved 14 participants. I know, it’s a real small study sample but the results were statistically significant so these findings may be really important. These 14 subjects either had four nights of normal sleep (8.5 hours) or restricted sleep (4.5 hours). Every participant was examined for 24 hours to evaluate their endocannabinoid levels. On the final day, all participants were given a healthy meal followed by a large selection of snack foods to choose from afterwards. These snacks included foods like candy, cookies and chips.
At the end of the study, the researchers found that those who had less sleep chose foods with more carbohydrates and twice as much fat and protein. But what they also found was that sleep also affected the participant’s endocannabinoid levels. Subjects with adequate sleep had endocannabinoid levels that rose up until mid-afternoon where the subject’s experienced early afternoon hunger. Whereas for the sleep deprived subjects, endocannabinoid levels rose steadily until the late evening, thus leading those sleep deprived subjects to feel hungrier throughout the day and choosing more unhealthy foods over healthier snack choices.
The findings of the study suggest that sleep plays an important role in not only how your body reacts to sleep and appetite but even the food choices that you make subconsciously. So it’s time to take a look at your sleep patterns and be honest with yourself if you don’t get enough sleep. For me, I am certainly going to work on adding an extra hour of shut-eye each night.
Your Turn to Take Action: What are some strategies you will use to get more sleep this week? Comment below.