First of all the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is made up of receptor sites (CB1 and CB2) on cell membranes. And, ECS receptors are present in almost every organ of the human body. For example, CB1 receptors are found in the brain and throughout the nervous system. And, CB2 receptors are found in the immune system.
Most of all Endocannabinoids (eCBs) are lipids (fatty acids) with modulatory activity in the brain that bind mainly to CB1 and CB2. As a result, they help modulate memory, mood, appetite, and pain. Furthermore, studies suggest that eCBs are under circadian control. And they promote Non Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, and REM sleep.
Above all, studies show that sleep deprivation results in higher and more persistent levels of the endocannabinoid, 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). And 2-AG significantly increases the pleasure of eating, especially sweet or salty high-fat foods.
Especially relevant, sleep deprivation has the same effect on eating as marijuana – both by activating the endocannabinoid system. In fact, by morning, the levels of 2-AG in well rested volunteers rose. On the other hand, levels of 2-AG in the sleep deprived were 33% higher when compared to the well rested volunteers. In addition, levels of 2-AG in the sleep deprived peaked 90 minutes later at 2 PM and remained elevated until about 9 PM.
Furthermore, researchers at University of Chicago found that sleep deprivation effected the endocannabinoid system by resulting in desire for food. Normally blood levels of 2-AG are low overnight and rise during the day peaking in the early afternoon. However when you are sleep deprived, endocannabinoid levels rose higher and remained high through the evening and beyond the typical 12:30 PM peak. During that period the sleep deprived had a strong desire to eat. They ate twice as much fatty foods as compared with those who slept 8 hours.
Another study reported that each added hour of wakefulness burned about 17 extra calories. So 4 hours of lost sleep burned about 70 calories. However, by eating snacks the sleep deprived took in over 300 extra calories.
Most noteworthy, the hormone ghrelin levels were high and hormone leptin levels were low as expected in the sleep deprived. And both these levels further caused the sleep deprived to eat fatty foods. Consequently, the sleep deprived are tempted to eat fatty foods from two fronts: the hormones ghrelin and leptin as well as the endocannabinoid system.
Furthermore, not getting a regular good night sleep has other negative results. And, the infographic below illustrates these.