Sleep deprivation is a big problem in America—studies suggest that roughly one-third of Americans don’t get enough. But while it, alone, is a problem, it can also lead to other complications too. Sleep deprivation, of course, leaves you fatigued and hazy, often confused or forgetful; but it can also affect cognitive decision making and even impulse control. This, scientists say, can also lead to something called “hedonic eating,” which can have even more lasting effect on your body.
“Hedonic eating” is, basically, “overeating” but with, perhaps, more desire to do so with a complete disregard for the consequences. Of course, “overeating” is a big problem in America too, with many people either eating too much of the kinds of foods that are bad for us or just eating too much in general. This has resulted in three-quarters of the country being overweight.
A new study, though, says that sleep may play a major role in overeating, which could, perhaps, have some influence on our obesity epidemic.
For example, University of Chicago research associate Erin Hanlon comments, “We know sleep restriction inhibits cognitive performance. It inhibits impulsivity. You are more driven to overeat. If you have a Snickers bar, and you’ve had enough sleep, you can control your natural response. But if you’re sleep-deprived, your hedonic drive for certain foods gets stronger, and your ability to resist them may be impaired so you are more likely to eat it. Do that again and again, and you pack on the pounds.”
In the study, researchers recruited 14 healthy women to sleep in the laboratory for two four-night sessions. During the first session, the group was given 8.5 hours of sleep. During the second session, though, the group was given only 4.5 hours of sleep. Each day, they were provided identical meals at 9 am, 2pm, and 7pm. Of course, the researchers measured data like appetite and food intake through the four-day stretches.
Participants reported they were more hungry and a much stronger desire to eat in the afternoon when they had less sleep but would also eat twice as many snacks when provided with unlimited access to them.
The scientists determined that endocannabinoid 2-arachidonolyglycerol, or 2-AG, levels were higher in those who had less sleep and peaked at sometime in the mid-afternooon—which is when most reported being the most hungry.
Hanlon concludes, “The large overarching message is sleep restriction and sleep deficiency have been associated with multiple deleterious outcomes, and it’s important for us to realize that adequate sleep is an important aspect of maintaining good health. People who believe in the old adage ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ need to revisit their thinking.”