If you’re at all like me, you’ve eaten a lot of junk food late at night. One explanation for those late-night slices of pizza or burgers has to do with alcohol, which has a disinhibiting effect that makes us crave fat and salt. But an increasing body of research suggests that exhaustion, too, plays a role — that the “sleep munchies” are real, at least in cases when people didn’t get enough sleep the night before.
A new study in the journal Sleep in which participants were put on normal sleep or sleep-restricted schedules while their calories were carefully monitored. Allison reports:The newstudy, based on blood samples, documents a novel finding: The daily rhythm of a particular endocannabinoid is altered by a lack of sleep.
And these changes “could be driving intake for more palatable foods,” Erin Hanlon, a neuroscientist at the University of Chicago Medical Center, told us.
“We found that sleep restriction boosts a signal that may increase the hedonic
aspect of food intake,” says Hanlon. In other words, being sleep deprived may produce a stronger desire to eat.
We’re still a long way from understanding the connections between sleeplessness, stress, and, well, gluttony. But knowing that the “sleep munchies” are probably a real thing with an explainable physical cause can only help those of us trying to improve our droopy-eyed eating habits.