When we say that getting adequate sleep should be part of your three-pronged approach to losing weight (the other two being eating less and moving more), we mean it. And now we have even more evidence to back that up. A recent study published by the University of Chicago links sleep deprivation to junk food cravings and higher total calorie consumption. The cravings you’re likely to experience when you’re sleepy may be similar, the study says, to the munchies typical of marijuana-toking stoners.
According to study lead Dr. Erin Hanlon, the sleepier you are, the higher your levels of endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids are chemicals produced by the body to regulate appetite, and they enhance your brain’s experience of pleasure, especially when you eat sweet, salty, or high-fat foods. These compounds bind to the same receptors that the active ingredients in cannabis, or weed, bind to, hence their name. The longer you go without sleep, the more those compounds increase in your blood, leaving you craving unhealthy munchies longer into the day and night. Ergo, the less sleep you get, the more junk food you crave and eat, and the more likely you are to pack on the pounds.
So how do you avoid sleepy cravings and the feelings of “hangriness” that coalesce with them? For starters, get some sleep! Study subjects who got a normal night’s sleep had much lower levels of the craving-inducing compounds in their systems than those who were getting less than 5 hours of shuteye a night.
Also, try stocking the pantry with healthier snacks that are heavy on fiber and protein and low on sodium and sugar so when you do get a hunger hankering, you have better options.
Lastly, attack each day with a plan, both for your meals and your time. You’re much less likely to reach for the cookie jar (and the potato chips and ice cream and peanut butter jar) in the evenings if you’re full from dinner and getting to bed at a decent hour.