Sleep deprivation is no foreign concept to college students. Pulling all-nighters to cram for exams or just procrastinating in general leads students to get less than their recommended eight hours of sleep. Despite this familiarity, students remain unknowledgeable of the negative consequences of sleep deprivation. In fact, one negative hunger-related consequence resembles that of marijuana.

Earlier research demonstrated that similar to marijuana, sleep deprivation was related to overeating, poor dietary choices, and weight gain...

It’s established knowledge that smoking marijuana leads to increased appetite.1 According to Erin Hanlon,a research associate in endocrinology at the University of Chicago, “We know that when people use marijuana, they overeat. And they tend to eat things that are yummy and rewarding." 3 A possible explanation for this effect is that neuron behavior changes with the high of marijuana, leading to enhanced taste and smell senses. 1

Earlier research demonstrated that similar to marijuana, sleep deprivation was related to overeating, poor dietary choices, and weight gain, but Hanlon and her colleagues hoped to explore the cause of this relationship. 2

In her study, 14 volunteers underwent two sleeping conditions: averaging 7.5 hours a night and averaging 4.2 hours a night. 2 Researchers monitored the subjects’ dietary choices and eating habits over the course of the experiment. The results indicated that lack of sleep increases the presence of the chemical signal, endocannabinoid 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG).2  This signal plays a role in pleasure and appetite and is also the same chemical affected by marijuana consumption.

The increase in 2-AG caused the sleep-deprived subjects to feel hungrier. As a result, they had a stronger desire to eat and assumed they could eat more. 1

Usually, blood levels of 2-AG are low overnight, reaching their highest levels around noon. 3 For the sleep-deprived volunteers, the blood levels of 2-AG peaked later in the afternoon, rose higher, and stayed consistently high throughout the night. 1  As a result, sleep-deprived volunteers would choose to eat cookies, chips, and candy and consume double the amount of fat. 2 This unhealthy snacking occurred in the late afternoon and evening - times of the day related to weight gain. 2 The body increases caloric intake to compensate for the increased energy need of staying awake. 1 In this study, however,  the volunteers would eat an extra 300 calories when only 17 calories are needed for every awake hour. 1 The body overestimates the energy needed, and the excess calories lead to weight gain.

The easiest way to solve this problem is to sleep more every night. An adequate amount of sleep is necessary to maintain proper health. As Hanlon stated, “People need to stop invoking ‘the old adage of I'll sleep when I am dead’.” 3 The value of sleep may be underestimated in our busy lives, but rest is crucial to properly function. Next time you catch yourself dozing off during a lecture, reevaluate your sleeping schedule and work to improve it.

Amani Ramiz is a freshman from Brown College at Rice University.


1. Cha, A. Study finds sleep deprivation can amplify ‘hedonistic eating’ just like pot. (accessed 2/29/16), part of Washington Post

2. Preidt, R. Lack of Sleep May Give You the 'Munchies.' (accessed 2/29/16), part of US News

3. Fox, M. Why a lack of sleep makes it harder to resist junk food. (accessed 2/29/16), part of Today