US study links poor sleep routines with more snacking
22 Sep 2021 --- Failure to sleep the recommended seven to eight hours per night could lead to increased and poorer snacking habits, according to research by Ohio State University, US.
An analysis of data on almost 20,000 US adults showed a link between not meeting sleep recommendations and eating more snack-related carbohydrates, added sugar, fats and caffeine.
Speaking to NutritionInsight, Christopher Taylor, the senior author of the study, says the results reveal important trends in snacking habits and their relationship to sleep.
“Often, the linkages between obesity and lack of sleep are assessed as nighttime eating, but there is a big difference between a late dinner and compulsive snacking in the evening,” he explains.
“While the results were not surprising per se, this data adds some much-needed granularity around the content of nighttime eating.”
Snacking occasions – including evening snacking – contribute an “underappreciated amount” of daily food intakes, he asserts. However, they lack the great nutritional content or density that is gained from intentional meals.
The study is published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and will be presented at the 2021 Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo on October 18.
Sleeping less, snacking more
Researchers analyzed data from 19,650 US adults between the ages of 20 and 60 who had participated from 2007 to 2018 in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
The survey collects 24 hour dietary recalls from each participant – detailing the types and times food was consumed and the average amount of weeknight sleep.
Participants were divided into those who either did or didn’t meet sleep recommendations based on whether they reported sleeping seven or more hours or fewer than seven hours each night.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society recommends that adults sleep seven hours or longer per night on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
Using US Department of Agriculture databases, the researchers estimated participants’ snack-related nutrient intake and categorized all snacks into food groups.
Statistical analysis showed that almost everyone – 95.5% – ate at least one snack a day, and over 50% of snacking calories among all participants came from two broad categories that included soda and energy drinks and chips, pretzels, cookies and pastries.
Compared to participants who slept seven or more hours a night, those who did not meet sleep recommendations were more likely to eat a morning snack and less likely to eat an afternoon snack. Those not sleeping properly also ate higher quantities of snacks with more calories and less nutritional value.
Taylor emphasizes that the findings should promote consumer education around sleep and snacking to prevent dietary-related illnesses such as obesity.
Despite snack category choices remaining the same regardless of participants sleeping well, those not meeting recommended sleep guidelines ate a larger amount.
“Predominant intakes were from beverages, snacks and savory sweets that contributed to energy intakes but less nutrient intakes. There are several opportunities for public education around portions and nutritional composition – especially based on the Dietary Guidelines’ emphasis on saturated fats, added sugars and sodium – for foods and beverages targeting snacking occasions,” says Taylor.
Labeling for change
Personal food choices are driven by numerous factors like taste, cost, convenience, availability, influences of media and advertising, says Taylor.
“All of these things are opportunities to promote a healthier eating pattern in the US. These changes will require health professionals, industry, government and public collaborations to address.”
Taylor concludes that more attention should be paid to the specifics of nighttime snacking and that further research should be done.
“Much guidance points to avoiding nighttime eating without fully discerning the content and context of nighttime eating. Diet quality plays an important factor throughout the day, and snacking intakes are contributing to the total storyline,” he says.
“More detailed work is needed to disentangle the timing versus the composition and how targeted interventions toward promoting sleep may produce related lifestyle behaviors (including the ‘obesogenic’ behaviors of sedentary activity, screen time, excess energy intakes) but also the metabolic responses that result.”
By Louis Gore-Langton
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