More evidence of the importance of sleep was revealed in the findings of a recent study by the University of Arizona. Researchers discovered that our sleep affects our nutritional choices and our nutritional choices affect our sleep.
The evidence showed how sleep loss is linked to nighttime snacking and junk food cravings which eventually lead to myriad health issues including obesity and diabetes.
More than 3,100 adult study participants from 23 different metropolitan areas were asked by phone about their consumption of nighttime snacks, junk food cravings, sleep quality and existing health problems. Researchers said about 60 percent of participants reported regular nighttime snacking and two out of three said lack of sleep led them to crave more junk food.
"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,” said professor Michael A. Grandner. “This study provides important information about the process; that these laboratory findings may actually translate to the real world. This connection between poor sleep, junk food cravings and unhealthy nighttime snacking may represent an important way that sleep helps regulate metabolism."
Poor sleep quality was a major predictor of junk food cravings among study participants and the junk food cravings were associated with an increase in the likelihood of nighttime snacking. Those factors combined to lead to weight gain and the associated health issues which in turn affected sleep quality and continued the unhealthy downward spiral.
"Sleep is increasingly recognized as an important factor in health, alongside nutrition," said researcher Christopher Sanchez. "This study shows how sleep and eating patterns are linked and work together to promote health."
University of Arizona sleep researchers are working to determine how sleep affects memory, mental health, stress, alertness and decision-making, as well as how environmental factors affect sleep. It is estimated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that as many as 20 percent of adults in the country experience sleep and wakefulness disorders.