Junk food cravings are associated with double the odds of nighttime snacking, which is linked to an increased risk for diabetes, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Arizona (UA) Health Sciences.
The findings also show that poor sleep quality may be be a major predictor of junk food cravings, and that junk food cravings are associated with a greater risk for obesity, diabetes and other health problems.
The study was conducted through a nationwide, phone-based survey of 3,105 adults from 23 metropolitan areas in the United States. Participants reported whether they regularly consumed a nighttime snack and if a lack of sleep led them to crave junk food. They also reported their sleep quality and existing health problems.
Around 60 percent of the participants reported regular nighttime snacking and two-thirds reported that 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. This study provides important information about the process, that these laboratory findings may actually translate to the real world,” said Michael A. Grandner, Ph.D., M.T.R., UA assistant professor of psychiatry and director of the UA Sleep and Health Research Program and the UA 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.”
The research was presented at SLEEP 2018, the 32nd annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC (APSS).
The meeting is the world’s premier forum to present and discuss the latest developments in clinical sleep medicine and sleep and the roughly 24-hour cycle that influences physiology and behavior, known as circadian science.
“Sleep is increasingly recognized as an important factor in health, alongside nutrition,” said lead author Christopher Sanchez, UA undergraduate nutrition and dietetics major and a student research assistant in the Sleep and Health Research Program directed by Grandner. “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 adults in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.