What is hanger and is it actually scientific?

If you’ve ever left lunch a little too late and snapped at a colleague, or your partner knows never to talk to you until you’re halfway through dinner, it’s likely you’ve experienced ‘hanger’.

The phrase started circulating a couple of years back, and while it seemed a funny concept, it turns out that its effects are real. This was confirmed by a scientist who appeared on Women’s Hour last week.

How hanger affects the brain

‘We’ve long recognised that hunger leads to irritability in science,’ Sophie Medlin, a lecturer in nutrition and diet at King’s College London told the Radio 4 audience. ‘When our blood sugars drop, cortisol and adrenaline rise up in our bodies – fight or flight hormones.’

These hormones mean that molecules called neuropeptides are released, and change your brain chemistry.

‘The ones that trigger for hunger are the same ones that trigger for anger and rage and impulsive type behaviours,’ says Sophie. ‘So that’s why you get that same sort of response.’

And it makes sense to give in to your hunger pangs when you can, as according to a study we make more mistakes when we’re suffering from hanger. The study found that when hungry participants were asked 480 questions, they could only answer 129 correctly compared with 231 when not hungry.

In terms of mood, they rated their annoyance levels 40% lower after eating, as well as feeling calmer, happier and more cooperative.

Well that’s settled it, we’re off to get a sandwich!