Increasing evidence from laboratory and epidemiologic studies indicates that insufficient sleep may be a risk factor for obesity. Sleep curtailment results in stimulation of hunger and food intake that exceeds the energy cost of extended wakefulness, suggesting the involvement of reward mechanisms. The current study tested the hypothesis that sleep restriction is associated with activation of the endocannabinoid (eCB) system, a key component of hedonic pathways involved in modulating appetite and food intake.
In a randomized crossover study comparing 4 nights of normal (8.5 h) versus restricted sleep (4.5 h) in healthy young adults, we examined the 24-h profiles of circulating concentrations of the endocannabinoid 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) and its structural analog 2-oleoylglycerol (2-OG). We concomitantly assessed hunger, appetite, and food intake under controlled conditions.
A robust daily variation of 2-AG concentrations with a nadir around the middle of the sleep/overnight fast, followed by a continuous increase culminating in the early afternoon, was evident under both sleep conditions but sleep restriction resulted in an amplification of this rhythm with delayed and extended maximum values. Concentrations of 2-OG followed a similar pattern, but with a lesser amplitude. When sleep deprived, participants reported increases in hunger and appetite concomitant with the afternoon elevation of 2-AG concentrations, and were less able to inhibit intake of palatable snacks.
Our findings suggest that activation of the eCB system may be involved in excessive food intake in a state of sleep debt and contribute to the increased risk of obesity associated with insufficient sleep.
A commentary on this article appears in this issue on page 495.
Hanlon EC, Tasali E, Leproult R, Stuhr KL, Doncheck E, de Wit H, Hillard CJ, Van Cauter E. Sleep restriction enhances the daily rhythm of circulating levels of endocannabinoid 2-arachidonoylglycerol. SLEEP 2016;39(3):653–664.