Next time you catch yourself polishing off a sleeve of cookies before bed, try skipping the snack and hitting the hay earlier.
A new study published today in the Journal of the American Heart Association reveals a link between sleep deprivation and high-calorie food cravings, particularly in women. The survey of nearly 500 women between the ages of 20 and 76 found that those who reported poor sleep quality or a lack of sleep also consumed more foods high in added sugars, saturated fats and caffeine.
Researchers warn that women are already at high risk for obesity and sleep disorders - both causes and results of calorific food intake. Foods associated with added sugars and fats are also linked to Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
“In our modern society, we oftentimes work late, we eat our meals late and sometimes sleep is kind of put by the wayside in terms of how important it is to our overall healthy lifestyle,” senior study author Dr. Brooke Aggarwal, assistant professor of medical sciences at Columbia University, told CNN. “Our study really highlights the importance of good, quality sleep for the management of body weight as well as potentially preventing heart disease among women.”
According to their self-reported responses, 30 percent of the women involved in the study slept fewer than seven hours per night (eight is recommended) and nearly 25 percent said the same but also suffered from insomnia. Average sleep time among the entire cohort was fewer than seven hours.
Those women, in turn, ate an additional 500 to 800 calories on average, as well as exceeded daily dietary recommendations for saturated fats, added sugars and caffeine. They also failed to meet the mark when it came to healthy foods, such as grains and fiber.
Previous studies have found that sleep deprivation may suppress the hormones that regulate food intake and tell us we are full and satisfied.
“It’s previously been shown that when we are sleep deprived, or we don’t get good quality sleep, our hormones can actually stimulate hunger,” Aggarwal said. “The ones that regulate suppression of hunger and fullness and satiety can be off-balance.”
Aggarwal also notes that eating junk food is known to disrupt sleep, so it’s a self-perpetuating cycle. She suggests practicing “good sleep hygiene,” such as going to bed at the same time every night, turning off all devices and setting your bedroom to a cool, comfortable temperature.
But if you absolutely must squeeze in a late-night bite, try reaching for a sleep-boosting snack, such as pistachios and a glass of red wine, which supports the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.