Poor sleep has been shown to increase the risk level of heart disease, and new research is helping to explain the connection. The study from Columbia University Irving Medical Center is providing new insight into how sleep quality can affect the quantity and type of food that women consume when sleep deprived.
Previous studies have found that people who get less sleep are more at risk for developing type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. It has also been shown that the relationship may be partially explained by diet. But this previous research has been narrowly focused on specific foods or nutrients, or it only measured sleep duration and not sleep quality.
This new study was designed to get a more accurate overall picture in women by examining the relationships between multiple aspects of sleep quality and overall diet quality.
“Women are particularly prone to sleep disturbances across the life span because they often shoulder the responsibilities of caring for children and family and, later, because of menopausal hormones,” says Brooke Aggarwal, senior author of the study.
For the study, researchers analyzed the eating and sleep patterns of 495 women, who were ethnically diverse, and aged between 20 to 76. Sleep quality, the time it took to fall asleep, and insomnia were all studied in each participant. The women were also required to report on the types and amounts of foods they typically consume throughout the year, allowing researchers to measure their typical diet.
Overeating and Poor Food Choices
The study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that those with poor sleep quality consumed more of the added sugar associated with obesity and diabetes. It was also noted that women who took longer to fall asleep had higher caloric intake and ate more food by weight. Women who suffered with more severe insomnia symptoms consumed more food by weight and fewer unsaturated fats compared to women with mild insomnia.
“Our interpretation is that women with poor-quality sleep could be overeating during subsequent meals and making more unhealthy food choices,” says Aggarwal.
Although this research helps to explain the connection between poor sleep quality and heart disease risk, it still does not answer the question of how poor sleep contributes to poor eating.
Faris Zuraikat, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and lead author of the study explains that 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 poor diet has a negative impact on women’s sleep quality,” adds Zuraikat. “Eating more could also cause gastrointestinal discomfort, for instance, making it harder to fall asleep or remain asleep.”
“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,” says Aggarwal.
Researchers hope these findings can provide new insight into how poor sleep quality can increase the risk of heart disease and obesity and point to possible interventions for improving women’s heart health. If the relationship between sleep and overeating or consuming a lower-quality diet can be understood, physicians can help patients and offer treatment before it becomes a risk for obesity, heart disease, or diabetes.