In a new study, researchers found that women who sleep poorly tend to overeat and consume a lower-quality diet.
The findings provide new insight into how poor sleep quality can increase the risk of heart disease and obesity and points to possible interventions for improving women’s heart health.
The research was conducted by a team at Columbia University Irving Medical Center.
Previous studies have shown that people who get less sleep are more likely to develop obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease—and that the relationship may be partially explained by diet.
But these studies were narrowly focused on specific foods or nutrients (i.e., fish, sweets, or saturated fat) or only measured sleep duration, not sleep quality.
The new study was designed to get a more comprehensive picture in women by examining associations between overall diet quality and multiple aspects of sleep quality.
The researchers analyzed the sleep and eating habits of an ethnically diverse group of 495 women, ages 20 to 76. The study looked at sleep quality, the time it took to fall asleep, and insomnia.
The women also reported on the types and amounts of foods they typically eat throughout the year, allowing researchers to measure their typical dietary patterns.
Similar to previous studies of sleep and diet, the study found that those with worse overall sleep quality consumed more of the added sugars associated with obesity and diabetes.
Women who took longer to fall asleep had higher caloric intake and ate more food by weight.
And women with more severe insomnia symptoms consumed more food by weight and fewer unsaturated fats than women with milder insomnia.
The team says poor sleep quality may lead to excessive food and calorie intake by stimulating hunger signals or suppressing signals of fullness.
Fullness is largely affected by the weight or volume of food consumed, and it could be that women with insomnia consume a greater amount of food in an effort to feel full.
However, it’s also possible that a poor diet has a negative impact on women’s sleep quality.
Eating more could also cause gastrointestinal discomfort, for instance, making it harder to fall asleep or remain asleep.
The team says given that poor diet and overeating may lead to obesity—a well-established risk factor for heart disease—future studies should test whether therapies that improve sleep quality can promote cardiometabolic health in women.
One author of the study is Brooke Aggarwal, EdD, an assistant professor of medical sciences.
The study is published in the Journal of American Heart Association.
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