Why You Snack When You're Tired Or High

Who hasn't been up late working (or, more realistically, scrolling the internet) and finished off both a bag of chips and the leftover takeout you'd intended to save "for lunch"? A new University of Chicago study has linked those irresistible late-night food cravings with the munchies some get after smoking a joint.

The common thread between midnight snack cravings and cannabis-induced munchies? The endocannabinoid system.

The small study, published in the journal Sleep, tracked the sleep and eating patterns of 14 men and women. Researchers found participants who slept only 4 hours per night, as opposed to a healthier 7.5, had higher levels of a chemical called endocannabinoid 2-AG. Endocannabinoid 2-AG is responsible for amplifying the pleasure felt when eating sweet, salty, or high-fat foods.

"We know that marijuana activates the endocannabinoid system and causes people to overeat when they are not hungry, and they normally eat yummy sweet and fatty foods," Erin Hanlon, who led the study, told The Guardian. "Sleep restriction may cause overeating by acting in the same manner."

Further, says the study abstract, "insufficient sleep may be a risk factor for obesity. Sleep curtailment results in stimulation of hunger and food intake that exceeds the energy cost of extended wakefulness."

In other words: tired people eat more calories than they can burn off. The findings echo numerous other studies linking sleep-deprivation with higher rates of obesity: reasonable, given how increased wakefulness means both more waking hours in which to eat, and an increased likelihood of feeling too tired to exercise.

The bottom line? If you're one of the millions of North Americans who a) regularly stays up late and b) occasionally gets high while doing so, your willpower not to overeat is getting hit with a double whammy. If you're both a night owl and a cannabis consumer, it might be worth the effort to take up running, yoga, or swimming - or, failing that, to keep the fridge stocked exclusively with healthy snacks.


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