Sleep Deprivation Increases Brain Cannabinoids
Most Americans do not get enough sleep (defined as more than 7 hours for adults, 8-10 hours for teenagers, more for children). When we do not get enough sleep, our brains produce cannabinoids (called endocannabinoids).
Without enough sleep, we are more irritable and our brains do not function as well. We make more mistakes, tasks take longer, and we are just not as bright. However, many people continue not to get enough sleep. It is as if they are driven to be sleep deprived. They do not respond to education or counseling about the ill effects of sleep deprivation. Why is that? We do not really have an answer.
Endocannabinoids (ECBs) are the body’s own cannabinoids or marijuana. We produce two major ECBs. Ananadamide has similar actions as THC in marijuana. 2AG has actions similar to CBD in marijuana. Sleep deprivation leads to increased 2AG.
ECBs are active in brain reward systems, and increase hedonic drive (drive to get enjoyment). So we may seek out (and eat) enjoyable foods. This may be one reason for the well-known finding that people who do not get enough sleep are heavier and gain weight. We may also seek out other enjoyable and entertaining things – soap operas, sports, games, and alcohol- whatever gives us enjoyment.
I wonder if therein lies the reason some people are driven to be sleep deprived. Perhaps these people produce more ECBs in response to sleep deprivation. Alternatively, perhaps they find the influence of these ECBs more enjoyable. Regardless, the enjoyment they seek and get because of the increased ECBs might be worth the deficits of sleep deprivation to these people.
ECBs also act to decrease pain, and may be effective in chronic pain. This effect may be directly through cannabinoid receptors, as well as through interactions with the body’s own opioid system. There may also be effect on the noradrenergic system. Therefore, I wonder if people who do not get enough sleep may also have less pain.
Possibly more enjoyment and less pain if you don’t get enough sleep – but beware of the consequences
More enjoyment and less pain – of course, this is all speculation. Still, what’s not to like? Actually, there’s a lot not to like. Beware, sleep deprived people lose IQ points and gain weight. But that’s not all! They also are more likely to develop high blood pressure. And they live shorter lives. So do get enough sleep, please.
On the other hand, if your sleep is not refreshing despite getting enough sleep (or you snore loudly or stop breathing in sleep), there may be an underlying sleep disorder that we can evaluate and treat.