The connection between poor sleep and unhealthy diet: Study

By Danielle Masterson contact

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags: cardiovascular health, Sleep, diet, Sugar

Women with poor overall sleep quality consume higher amounts of added sugars associated with obesity and diabetes, according to a new study published online in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Researchers at Columbia University's Irving Medical Center analyzed the associations between measures of sleep quality and the dietary patterns of women who were part of a year-long study program called AHA Go Red for Women. The program studied sleep patterns and cardiovascular risk in women. 

Previous research has suggested  that getting a less than ideal amount of sleep is an independent and strong risk factor for obesity in all ages. 

The study highlights the importance of a healthy diet, especially as obesity rates are at an all-time high and only expected to increase.

The study

The participants included nearly 500 ethnically diverse women, aged  20-76. They self-reported their sleeping and eating habits using questionnaires. They were asked how frequently each item was consumed over the past year as well as their portion sizes. 


Over one-third of the women studied had poor sleep quality or some level of insomnia. Nearly 30% slept less than seven hours per night and almost 25% slept less than seven hours per night but also struggled with insomnia. The average sleep time among all the women was less than seven hours.

Overall, women who didn't sleep well or didn't sleep enough consumed an additional 500 to 800 calories on average. They exceeded recommendations for total and saturated fat intakes, as well as added sugars and caffeine, but failed to meet recommendations for whole grains and fiber.

Women who took longer to fall asleep had higher calorie intake and ate more food by weight. The women with more severe insomnia symptoms consumed more food by weight and fewer unsaturated fats than those with milder insomnia.

“These findings build upon the well‐established link between sleep duration and diet by demonstrating that quality of sleep is also related to overall caloric intake and the amount and types of food consumed. Importantly, this is one of the earliest observations of associations of overall sleep quality, sleep‐onset latency, and insomnia with diet quality in women across a broad range of ages and race/ethnicities, thereby extending findings of a sleep–diet relation previously demonstrated in populations differing in characteristics such as age and sex. By showing that poor sleep quality can be linked to overeating and poor diet quality in women, this study provides insight into a potential mechanism underlying the relationship between sleep quality and cardiometabolic health in a population at increased risk for sleep disturbances and prone to CVD,”​ the report noted.

The researchers also  pointed out that consuming too much food can cause gastrointestinal discomfort, which can make it harder to fall or remain asleep, as a possible explanation. 

Sleep, diet, obesity, and heart disease 

Foods high in added sugars and unhealthy fats are linked to health conditions and diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

"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,”​ said Dr. Brooke Aggarwal, senior author of the study and assistant professor of medical sciences at Columbia University's Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

"Our interpretation is that women with poor quality sleep could be overeating during subsequent meals and making more unhealthy food choices.”

One reason that a lack of quality sleep might lead to overeating is because it's believed to stimulate hunger, and/or suppress hormone signals that communicate fullness, the study said.

"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."

The reports concluded, Poor sleep quality was associated with greater food intake and lower‐quality diet, which can increase cardiovascular disease risk. Future studies should test whether promoting sleep quality could augment efforts to improve cardiometabolic health in women.”


Source: Journal of the American Heart Association

2020;9:e014587 17 Feb 2020

“Measures of Poor Sleep Quality Are Associated With Higher Energy Intake and Poor Diet Quality in a Diverse Sample of Women From the Go Red for Women Strategically Focused Research Network”

Authors: F. Zuraikat et al.

Related topics: Research

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