Recent studies have explored the risks associated with not getting enough sleep, including poor diet choices and an increased risk of heart disease. Now, researchers from Columbia University Irving Medical Center have discovered why sleep is so important for women.
The study revealed that women are more likely than men to have poorer quality sleep. It also suggests that not getting enough rest can negatively influence women’s eating habits and increase their risk of heart disease and obesity.
“Poor sleep quality may lead to excessive food and calorie intake by stimulating hunger signals or suppressing signals of fullness,” said researcher Faris Zuraikat, PhD. “Fullness is largely affected by the weight or volume of food consumed, and it could be that women with insomnia consume a greater amount of food in an effort to feel full.”
How sleep affects diet
To better understand how women’s sleeping habits could be putting them at greater risk of heart disease, the researchers had nearly 500 women participate in the study.
The women self-reported on several different measures to give the researchers the clearest picture regarding their typical sleeping and eating routine. They answered questions about how long it takes them to fall asleep, how long they spend awake in the middle of the night, what times they usually eat, and what their diet consists of.
The researchers found a very clear link between the women’s sleeping and eating routines. They determined that women who aren’t getting enough quality sleep could be at a greater risk for heart disease or obesity.
The study revealed that women struggling with insomnia or struggling to fall asleep at night were more likely to overeat at mealtimes and eat foods that have more calories; poor sleep quality was also associated with diets higher in added sugars.
“Our interpretation is that women with poor-quality sleep could be overeating during subsequent meals and making more unhealthy food choices,” said researcher Brooke Aggarwal, EdD.
Finding ways to improve sleep
Because the risk for heart disease is linked so closely with consumers’ diets, the researchers are hoping that these findings can inspire new treatment methods that would target sleep quality.
For those with a higher risk of heart disease who have difficulty sleeping, being able to sleep through the night would not only reduce the risks associated with insomnia; it could also help women lead healthier lives overall.
“Given that poor dieting and overeating may lead to obesity -- a well-established risk factor for heart disease -- future studies should test whether therapies that improve sleep quality can promote cardiometabolic health in women,” said Aggarwal.