Inadequate sleep causes the munchies
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Unhealthy Eating Habits

When people smoke marijuana, they often overeat high-calorie foods, a phenomenon commonly referred to as “the munchies.” Lack of sleep may cause the munchies as well, according to a new study.

About the study

The study examined healthy 18- to 30-year-olds during two four-day stays at a research center. During the first stay, the 14 participants were allowed to sleep 8.5 hours and the second 4.5 hours, as the researchers recorded their eating habits and performed blood tests.

When the study participants were sleep deprived, they did not change their intake during meals. But they were unable to resist the snacks, taking in twice as much fat and protein from snacks as they did when they were getting enough sleep. Their appetite increased the most in the late afternoon and early evening.

Blood tests showed that the endocannabinoid 2-arachidonoylglycerol levels increased during the normal 12:30 p.m. peak and stayed elevated into the evening when the participants were sleep deprived. Endocannabinoids are fats that the body produces naturally, which bind to the same receptors in the brain as tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana. These fats also increase the amount of pleasure and satisfaction gained from eating.

Energy requirements are obviously higher for people who sleep less due to increased activity. But the amount of calories consumed tends to exceed the required amount, resulting in weight gain. Weight gain can also lead to sleep apnea, causing inadequate sleep, creating a vicious, unhealthy cycle that can lead to obesity and other health risks.

Insufficient sleep is also associated with motor vehicle crashes, occupational accidents, high blood pressure, cancer and depression. Those who are recovering from substance use disorders put themselves at risk of relapse by not getting enough sleep. Sleep is necessary for both mental and physical well-being.

According to the National Institutes of Health, teenagers require nine to 10 hours of sleep per night and adults need seven to eight hours. Yet 70 percent of teens and 33 percent of adults do not get adequate rest. While sleep medications may help short-term insomnia, they should not be used long term due to side effects. Rather, adequate exercise during the day and good sleep hygiene usually prevents insomnia without the need for drugs.

About us

Sovereign Health of California treats individuals with mental illness, substance use disorders and dual diagnosis. We emphasize nutrition and healthy lifestyle for long-term recovery while providing stabilization and treatment of acute problems and underlying causes. Comprehensive treatment includes novel, conventional, and holistic therapies tailored for each individual client. Our ongoing continuing care program provides the support patients need to remain free from addiction and recover from all of its consequences. To find out more about specialized programs at Sovereign Health, please call us at our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Dana Connolly, Ph.D., is a senior staff writer for the Sovereign Health Group, where she translates current research into practical information. She earned her Ph.D. in research and theory development from New York University and has decades of experience in clinical care, medical research and health education. The Sovereign Health Group is a health information resource and Dr. Connolly helps to ensure excellence in our model. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at

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