How sleep loss increases feelings of hunger

Research Summary
Palak Patel, MD
Contributing writer for Baby Sleep News

A recent consensus published by the CDC indicates a rising epidemic of sleep deprivation in Americans. Studies suggest that individuals who sleep less are at risk of weight gain and diabetes. So, is there a real association between reduced slumber time and risk of obesity?

A recent study published in the Sleep underpins the link between sleep deprivation and obesity. According to the study, 14 young adults without known medical problems were subjected to normal and restricted sleep conditions under controlled settings. Scientists recorded the levels of several appetite and stress-related hormones every hour, including endocannabinoids, leptin, ghrelin and cortisol. They also recorded self-report of hunger, appetite, mood and vigor scores before and after meals. Researchers found that restricted sleep was associated with an extended peak concentration of endocannabinoids and an elevated level of the appetite stimulating hormone, ghrelin compared to the appetite suppressing hormone, leptin. These fluctuations in hormone levels were correlated with eating more snacks rich in fats and proteins after lunch despite feeling full.

The authors concluded that sleep loss tips the energy balance by increasing the desire for food intake through activating the body’s inner cannabinoid system.  Our bodies produce endocannabinoids; they are used by the brain for a variety of purposes, including motor learning, appetite, and pain sensation. Endocannabinoids have an appetite stimulating property similar to Marijuana.

How do these findings relate to children? Well, obesity also predisposes children to type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure problems. Besides these, obstructive sleep apnea is also common in this population due to extra pounds that interfere with normal breathing during sleep. Keeping these afflictions in mind, parents should be mindful whether children get optimal sleep. Parents should read the guidelines published by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine for age-appropriate sleep durations for maintenance of adequate mental, physical and emotional health of their children.