According to their findings, getting the recommended seven hours of sleep per night may lead to healthier snacking during the day, while the opposite is also true; getting fewer than seven hours of sleep each night may lead to eating more unhealthy snacks.
“Not only are we not sleeping when we stay up late, but we’re doing all these obesity-related behaviors: lack of physical activity, increased screen time, food choices that we’re consuming as snacks and not as meals,” said researcher Christopher Taylor. “So it creates this bigger impact of meeting or not meeting sleep recommendations.
How sleep impacts our health
For the study, the researchers analyzed data from nearly 20,000 adults enrolled in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Participants recorded food logs that included both what and when they ate, as well as information on their sleep schedule on weeknights.
The researchers learned that the participants’ sleep habits had an impact on their snacking habits. While more than 95% of the participants had at least one snack per day, sleeping patterns impacted when snacks were consumed and what kinds of snacks were consumed most often.
“We know lack of sleep is linked to obesity from a broader scale, but it’s all these little behaviors that are anchored around how that happens,” said Taylor.
The study showed that participants who struggled to sleep for at least seven hours every night ate more unhealthy snacks throughout the day than those who met sleep guidelines. It’s important to note that more than 50% of the participants reported eating things like chips, cookies, or pretzels. However, participants that weren’t sleeping enough ate more of these types of foods and were also more likely to snack in the morning.
The researchers’ biggest piece of advice: get to bed earlier — even that means just physically getting into bed sooner to avoid unhealthy snacking.
“Meeting sleep recommendations helps us meet that specific need for sleep related to our health, but is also tied to not doing the things that can harm health,” Taylor said. “The longer we’re awake, the more opportunities we have to eat. And at night, those calories are coming from snacks and sweets. Every time we make those decisions, we’re introducing calories and items related to increased risk for chronic diseases, and we’re not getting whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
“Even if you’re in bed and trying to fall asleep, at least you’re not in the kitchen eating — so if you can get yourself to bed, that’s a starting point,” he said.