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Nighttime snacking and junk food cravings may contribute to unhealthy eating behaviors and represent a potential link between poor sleep and obesity, according to a study by University of Arizona Health Sciences researchers. The study also found that junk food cravings were associated with increased risk of diabetes and other health problems.
The study was conducted via a nationwide, phone-based survey of 3,105 adults from 23 U.S. metropolitan areas. Participants were asked if they regularly consumed a nighttime snack and whether lack of sleep led them to crave junk food. They also were asked about their sleep quality and existing health problems.
About 60 percent of participants reported regular nighttime snacking and two-thirds reported that lack of sleep led them to crave more junk food.
The researchers found that junk food cravings were associated with double the increase in the likelihood of nighttime snacking, which was associated with an increased risk for diabetes. They also found that poor sleep quality seemed to be a major predictor of junk food cravings, and that junk food cravings were associated with a greater likelihood of participants reporting obesity, diabetes and other health problems.
“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,” noted Dr. Michael A. Grandner, director of the University of Arizona’s Sleep and Health Research Program and Behavioral Sleep Medicine Clinic. “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,” said Christopher Sanchez, lead author of the study. “This study shows how sleep and eating patterns are linked and work together to promote health.”
Sleep and wakefulness disorders affect an estimated 15 to 20 percent of U.S. adults, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.