Sleep less than 7 hours with more snacks

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Sleep Health | Sleep Review

Missing the recommended 7 or more hours of sleep each night could lead to more opportunities to choose inferior snacks than those following eye-closing guidelines, suggests a new study.

Analysis of data from nearly 20,000 American adults showed a link between failure to follow sleep recommendations and consuming more snack-related carbohydrates, added sugars, fats, and caffeine.

It turns out that the preferred no-meal food categories – salty snacks and sweets and soft drinks – are the same for adults regardless of their sleeping habits, but those who sleep less tend to eat more snack calories overall in a day.

Research also showed what appears to be a popular American habit that isn’t affected by how much we sleep: snacking at night.

“At night we drink our calories and eat lots of convenience foods,” said Christopher Taylor, PhD, RDN, LD, professor of medical dietetics in the Ohio State University’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and senior author of the study, in a press release.

“Not only do we not sleep when we stay up late, but we do all of these obesity-related behaviors: lack of physical activity, longer screen time, food choices that we consume as snacks rather than meals. So it creates this greater impact when the sleep recommendations are followed or not followed.

“We know that lack of sleep is broadly linked to obesity, but it’s all of these little behaviors that are linked to how this happens.”

The abstract of the study will be published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the research will be featured in a poster session on October 18 at the Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo 2021.

The researchers analyzed data from 19,650 American adults, ages 20 to 60, who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2007 to 2018.

The survey collects 24-hour diet reminders from each participant – not just what, but when all food was consumed – and asks people about their average amount of nightly sleep during the work week.

The Ohio State team divided participants into those who either met the sleep recommendations or not based on whether they reported sleeping seven or more hours or less than seven hours a night. Using US Department of Agriculture databases, researchers estimated participants’ snack-related nutritional intake and categorized all snacks into food groups. Three snack time frames were set for the analysis: 2: 00-11: 59 am, 12: 00-5: 59 pm, and 6: 00-1: 59 pm.

Statistical analysis showed that almost everyone – 95.5% – ate at least one snack a day, and over 50% of all participants’ snack calories came from two broad categories, including soda and energy drinks and chips, pretzels, cookies and pastries.

Compared to participants who slept 7 or more hours a night, those who did not meet the sleep recommendations were more likely to consume a morning snack and less likely to have an afternoon snack and ate higher amounts of snacks with more calories and less nutritional value.

Although many physiological factors play a role in the relationship between sleep and health, changing behavior, particularly by avoiding nightly snacking, could not only help adults comply with sleep guidelines but also improve their diet.

“Adhering to sleep recommendations helps us meet this specific need for sleep related to our health, but is also tied to avoiding things that can be harmful to our health,” says Taylor, a registered nutritionist. “The longer we are up, the more options we have to eat. And at night, those calories come from snacks and sweets. Every time we make these decisions, we are introducing calories and products that are associated with an increased risk of chronic disease, and we are not getting whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

“Even if you’re in bed 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’s co-authors are Emily Potosky, Randy Wexler, and Keeley Pratt, all from Ohio.

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