Loss of sleep can turn you into a junk food zombie

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Sleep loss acts on the same brain receptors as marijuana in increasing food cravings.

New research linking loss of sleep with junk food cravings, similar to the marijuana munchies, has scientists excited about finding new ways to help those of us with overeating tendencies, according to the New York Times.

The new study looked at brain receptors, called encocannabinoids, so named for cannabis, which the study says were closely involved in the craving for extra foods when a person is sleep deprived.  The subjects that had their sleep restricted by the researchers were found to have elevated levels of endocannabinoid in their blood, and experienced hunger, particularly in the early afternoon, a condition common to a lot of us.

For the study, a group of fourteen individuals between 18 and 30 were selected, and each of them participated in both aspects of the study which included four nights of healthy sleep, and four nights of having their sleep disturbed.  After each night, they were given two regular meals and were allowed access to unlimited snacks.  The list of snacks included items like candy, chips and salsa, Doritos, Cheetos, and ice cream, but also included fruit and yogurt as healthier snack options.

After the nights of sleep deprivation, the subjects reported feeling more hungry than after the well-slept nights, and found it more difficult to control their snacking.  They consumed almost twice as much fat and protein after the nights of sleep loss as well, although there was no significant difference in the amount of calories consumed during the regular meals.  Earlier studies on the subject have noted that people are likely to consume more foods high in fat and carbohydrates after sleep loss.

Many Americans are not getting the recommended amounts of sleep, many due to their circumstances with work schedules or family issues, and there is concern it may be adding to the growing number of overweight and obese people in the US.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures released for 2014 show that over two-thirds of Americans over the age of 20 are in the overweight or obese group.

The researchers say they hope the new findings can lead to finding ways to assist those forced to lose sleep with controlling their weight, but add the best solution is simply to get enough sleep in the first place.  They hope to bring awareness that adequate sleep is an important aspect of maintaining overall good health.

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