Eating at night and craving junk food are unhealthy eating behaviors, and they may present a potential link between poor sleep and obesity.
This is the finding from a study by the University of Arizona Health Sciences sleep researchers.
Currently, sleep disorders affect about 15-20% of U.S. adults, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The researchers used a phone-call survey to examine 3,105 adults from 23 U.S. metropolitan areas.
Each participant reported if they regularly ate a nighttime snack and whether lack of sleep led them to crave junk food.
They also reported on their sleep quality and existing health problems.
The finding shows that about 60% of participants reported regularly eating at night and two-thirds reported that sleep loss led them to crave more junk food.
So, Junk food cravings were associated with double the increase in eating at night, and this was linked to higher diabetes risk.
The team also found that poor sleep quality may predict junk food cravings and that junk food cravings were linked to a higher risk of obesity, diabetes, and other health problems.
The researchers said:
“Laboratory studies suggest that sleep deprivation can lead to junk food cravings at night, which leads to increased unhealthy snacking at night, which then leads to weight gain.
This study provides important information about the process, that these laboratory findings may actually translate to the real world.”
“This connection between poor sleep, junk food cravings and unhealthy nighttime snacking may represent an important way that sleep helps regulate metabolism.”
“Sleep is increasingly recognized as an important factor in health, alongside nutrition. This study shows how sleep and eating patterns are linked and work together to promote health.”
UA Health Sciences sleep researchers work as interdisciplinary teams, conducting research and leading clinical trials to assess how sleep affects memory, mental health, stress, alertness and decision-making, and how environmental factors affect sleep.
Further reading: University of Arizona.