ASK THE DOCTORS: Hormone-Related Junk Food Cravings, Circadian Cycle | Lifestyles
Dear doctors: Is there a reason I crave junk food when I’m really tired? I double work and if I don’t get enough sleep all I want are donuts and pizza. My husband says it’s because these are my favorite foods and they’re easy, but it’s different from that. What can I do?
Dear reader: You can’t imagine it when it seems like the allure of sugary and fatty foods gets stronger when you are tired or exhausted. Research has found a link between sleep and our endocrine system, and the link is played with two hormones in particular: ghrelin and leptin. Everyone has an important role in regulating hunger.
Ghrelin, which stimulates the appetite, is produced and released mainly by the tissues of an empty stomach. It has many roles, including aiding fat storage, regulating blood sugar, and helping memory retention. The most important thing in this context, however, is that it makes you hungry. In fact, despite the many other functions of ghrelin in the human body, it is known as the “hunger hormone”.
Leptin, on the other hand, suppresses the appetite. It is stored in fatty tissue, commonly known as body fat. Once released, it circulates in the blood and reaches the brain. One of the jobs of leptin is to signal the brain to create the feeling of being full after eating.
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In addition to some triggers associated with food intake, the daily ebb and flow of these two hunger hormones are linked to the daily cycle of daylight and darkness. It is the 24 hour period that we know as the circadian cycle, which indicates so many essential functions of the body. When you lack sleep, you are no longer in tune with your circadian rhythms. This has the effect of suppressing leptin levels which let you know you are full and increasing the secretion of ghrelin which increases appetite. The result may be the spike in your hunger pangs that makes sugary and fatty foods so tempting.
Previous research has found a link between sleep deprivation and an increased production of neurotransmitters called endocannabinoids. These particular neurotransmitters also play a role in odor and eating behavior, and can lead to increased feelings of hunger.
Another answer comes from an intriguing Northwestern University study. Researchers have found that the olfactory system – the sense of smell – breaks down a bit in people who don’t get enough sleep. A sharp increase in sensitivity to odors was followed by confused brain messages related to energy needs. Researchers suspect that this could lead to an overwhelming craving for high-energy foods. With this type of internal signage, donuts and pizza would easily gain competition from salads and fresh fruit. No wonder we grabbed the take out menu and the snack drawer when we ran out of sleep!
While the occasional “cheat” of comfort food is okay, we believe you will feel much better on healthier foods. Plan ahead for meals that contain high-quality protein and complex carbohydrates, which will help you feel full and satisfied.
Send your questions to [email protected], or write to: Ask the Doctors, c / o Media Relations, UCLA Health, 924 Westwood Blvd., Suite 350, Los Angeles, CA, 90095.