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Mar 01, 2016 08:26 AM EST

Sleep deprivation may lead to eating more food

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Recovery sleep over a weekend may not reverse all the effects of sleep lost during the workweek.
Recovery sleep over a weekend may not reverse all the effects of sleep lost during the workweek.
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A new study reveals that sleep deprivation can trigger powerful changes in how you eat, similar to the 'hedonistic eating' triggered by smoking pot, the Washington Post reports.

The new paper was published in the journal Sleep on Monday. The study was partially funded by the Department of Defense.

For the study, Eric Hanlon, from the University of Chicago, and her colleagues' studied just 14 healthy men and women in their 20s, but in extremely controlled conditions. The participants came in for two four-day visits during which their sleep and food intake were closely studied. 

Hanlon explained when asked about how the participants felt about food after normal sleep vs. short sleep that the study subjects reported feeling hungrier when they had had less sleep.

"They had a stronger desire to eat and thought they could eat more," she said.

The study found that limiting sleep seemed to amplify and change the daily rhythm of a chemical signal known as endocannabinoid 2-arachidonoylglycerol or 2-AG, that is part of the endocannabinoid system, which impacts appetite as well as motor learning, pain and some cognitive functions.

The active ingredient in marijuana also targets the endocannabinoid system.

The study showed that when the participants slept less, they not only reported higher scores for hunger and a stronger desire, but also ate nearly twice as much fat as when they had slept for eight hours when they were given access to a buffet.

Hanlon explained that staying awake longer could lead the body to crave more food to create the additional energy it needs. In the study, for example, the participants who slept less ate an average of 300 extra calories.

"What we found is that it's not just about energy homeostasis but also for the reward or pleasurable aspects of hedonistic eating," Hanlon said.

In a commentary accompanying the paper, Frank Scheer of the Medical Chronobiology Program at Harvard University's Brigham and Women's Hospital, said that despite the study's limitations, it provides "compelling" evidence that our brains as well as our bodies may trigger hunger when we've had inadequate sleep.

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