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Lack of sleep leads to unhealthy snacking

Failure to meet the recommended guidelines of seven or more hours of sleep per night has been linked to unhealthy snacking. Experts in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at The Ohio State University analyzed data on nearly 20,000 Americans and found that individuals who fall short of sleep recommendations eat more snacks that are high in carbohydrates, added sugar, and fat.

The results of the analysis show that the most preferred non-meal food categories – salty snacks and sweets – are the same among adults regardless of their sleep habits. However, individuals who sleep less tend to consume more snack calories in a day.

The study authors found that nighttime snacking is a habit among Americans that is tied to how much we sleep. “At night, we’re drinking our calories and eating a lot of convenience foods,” said study senior author Professor Christopher Taylor.

“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. So it creates this bigger impact of meeting or not meeting sleep recommendations.”

“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.”

The analysis showed that almost 96 percent of the subjects ate at least one snack a day. More than 50 percent of all snacking calories fell under two broad categories: soda and energy drinks; and chips, pretzels, cookies and pastries. 

Overall, the participants who slept less than seven hours a night ate higher quantities of snacks with more calories and less nutritional value.

While there are many physiological factors involved in sleep’s relationship to health, Taylor said changing behavior by avoiding unhealthy snacking at night could help adults not only meet the sleep guidelines, but also improve their diet.

“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,” said Taylor. 

“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 disease, 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.”

The study is published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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