If you find yourself reaching for the ice cream and cookies on a daily basis, it might be because you simply aren’t getting enough sleep.
A new study published this year by the American Heart Association measured the sleep quality and dietary patterns of nearly 500 women. They participated as part of the AHA Go Red for Women program, a year-long study of sleep patterns and cardiovascular risk.
Researchers discovered that the less people slept and the poorer the quality of sleep they did get, the more the women consumed added sugars, saturated fats and caffeine.
Overall, women in the study who didn’t sleep well or didn’t sleep enough consumed an additional 500 to 800 calories on average per day. They exceeded recommendations for total and saturated fat intake, as well as added sugars and caffeine, but failed to meet recommendations for whole grains and fiber. Younger women who slept poorly also consumed less dairy.
It makes sense — after a restless night you may reach for a large coffee and donut to throw some caffeine and sugar at the situation. Sugar and caffeine may be a quick fix for when we’re feeling a little bleary-eyed, but they can lead to long-term health problems. Foods high in added sugars and unhealthy fats are also linked to health conditions and diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
One reason that a lack of quality sleep might lead to overeating is because it’s believed to stimulate hunger, and/or suppress hormone signals that communicate fullness, the study said.
It can be a vicious cycle, though. Eating these types of foods later in the day can lead to gastrointestinal discomfort, which in turn can affect the quality of our sleep. Acid reflux can occur, for example.
Get your sleep fix
Instead of grabbing a sugar fix to keep you awake, try to look into the reasons why your sleep may be poor to begin with. It’s always advisable to practice good “sleep hygiene.” This means making sure your bedroom is dark and cool while you’re sleeping, and that there are no extraneous lights, such as blue light from a cell phone.
It’s also important to develop a wind-down routine and improve your diet. If you suffer from insomnia, consult your doctor. Try not to eat too close to bedtime or you may develop “milk and cookies disease” — a sleep disorder brought on by too much sugar and dairy.
The good news is, this is your written permission to sleep more, something we can all get behind. And if it leads to a little weight loss, even better.