Pot smokers can blame marijuana for the munchies. For the rest of us, the problem may lie in a brain chemical called 2-AG (endocannabinoid 2-arachidonoylglycerol), which resembles chemicals found in cannabis and affects pain, pleasure, and appetite.
A new study published in the Journal Sleep found that our bodies usually have a low amount of this chemical overnight, and it rises during the day, hitting a peak in the early afternoon. But sleep-deprived folks experience higher levels of the chemical through the day, long past the usual 12:30pm peak.
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In fact, tired subjects ate twice as much fat (in the form of snacks) compared to those who got eight hours of sleep. The study—led by Erin Hanlon, PhD, a research associate in endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism at the University of Chicago—focused on 14 healthy men and women in their 20s. The subjects spent four days at University's Clinical Research Center and either slept 7.5 hours or 4.2 hours. They all ate the same meals at 9am, 2pm, and 7pm. The sleep-deprived groups saw 2-AG levels rise to levels 33 percent higher than those who got a normal night's sleep—and the chemical remained elevated until about 9 p.m.