If you’re a woman and you’re craving more junk food, it could be PMS or may just be that you need to get more ZZZs. And if you think it’s OK that you’ve put on a few pounds because of it, think again. A study out of Columbia University Irvine Medical Center suggests that inadequate sleep and poor sleep quality may raise the risk of heart disease and obesity in women. 1
Earlier research has shown that individuals who don’t get adequate sleep are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. The reason is partly due to diet. Previous research focused on specific foods such as fish, desserts and saturated fat or only looked at time asleep but not quality of sleep.1
The recent research in nearly 500 women was developed to get a better picture of the link between diet quality and sleep quality. The author of the study, Brooke Aggarwal, EdD and assistant professor of medical sciences at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, notes that women are more likely to suffer disturbances in sleep throughout their life as they often bear the brunt of household responsibilities such as child rearing and caring for family, and later due to menopausal hormone shifts. 1
The sleep and eating habits of 495 ethnically-diverse women ages 20 to 76 was evaluated by the researchers. The study examined sleep quality, time taken to fall asleep, and insomnia. The women also provided information on the types and quantities of the foods they’d eaten throughout the year, which let the researchers evaluate their typical eating patterns. 1
Results of the study aligned with previous results -- women with the worst quality sleep ate more added sugars associated with diabetes and obesity. Higher calorie intake and body weight were also observed in women who took longer to get to sleep. Women with the most insomnia ate more food by weight and less unsaturated fats than those with milder insomnia. 1
Aggarwal notes that women with poor sleep quality may be overeating at meals and choosing more unhealthy foods. The big question is how is poor sleep related to poor eating? 1
Dr Fari Zuraikat, postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, notes that poor sleep may impact hunger signals or suppress fullness signals, leading to overeating. The weight or volume of food consumed affects fullness. Women with insomnia may eat more in order to feel full. 1
In addition, poor diet may negatively impact sleep quality. Zuraikat notes that overeating causes gastrointestinal distress, which may make it more difficult to fall or stay asleep. Since poor diet and overeating can lead to obesity, a risk factor for heart disease, more studies should test if therapies to improve sleep quality may promote women’s cardiometabolic health. 1
The following suggestions may help clients improve their sleep hygiene and reduce metabolic risk factors:
- Establish a normal bedtime and stick with it (even on weekends). Research shows that maintaining bedtime at the same time per night helps regulate circadian rhythms and eating patterns. 2
- Turn off all screens 3 hours before bed. This includes TV, tablet, cell phone, electronic readers, etc. Blue light suppresses melatonin production, which impacts sleep.
- Reduce caffeine. Consuming excess caffeine from coffee, colas, tea or chocolate may impact sleep and increase the risk of insomnia. 3
- Avoid eating late at night. Eating too late raises the risk of reflux, which can impact sleep. It may also lead to weight gain.
- Keep your room comfortably cool and dark. According to sleep.org, it may help to consider your bedroom a “cave.” Keep it between 60 to 77 degrees, cool, quiet ,and dark. 4
By Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD
- Faris M. Zuraikat, Nour Makarem, Ming Liao, Marie?Pierre St?Onge, Brooke Aggarwal. 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. Journal of the American Heart Association, 2020; 9 (4) DOI: 10.1161/JAHA.119.014587
- Theorell-Haglöw J1, Lemming EW2, Michaëlsson K2, Elmståhl S3, Lind L4, Lindberg E1. Sleep duration is associated with healthy diet scores and meal patterns: results from the population-based EpiHealth study. J Clin Sleep Med. 2020 Jan 15;16(1):9-18
- Clark I1, Landolt HP2. Coffee, caffeine, and sleep: A systematic review of epidemiological studies and randomized controlled trials. Sleep Med Rev. 2017 Feb;31:70-78
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.