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How sleeping less than 7 hours a night can lead to weight gain

Sleeping fewer than seven hours a night can lead to poorer snacking choices, researchers say. 

In a new study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the analysis of data on nearly 20,000 American adults showed a link between not meeting recommended sleep guidelines and eating more snack carbohydrates, added sugar, fats and caffeine.


While salty snacks, sweets treats and non-alcoholic drinks were found to be the same among adults regardless of sleep habits, those getting less sleep tended to eat more snack calories per day overall.

The data examined in the study was taken from 19,650 U.S. adults between the ages of 20 and 60 who had participated from 2007 to 2018 in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

In addition to questions regarding the average amount of nightly sleep during the workweek, 24-hour dietary recalls were taken from each participant.

Sleep is a key part of a healthy life

Sleep is a key part of a healthy life
(Credit: iStock)

“At night, we’re drinking our calories and eating a lot of convenience foods,” Christopher Taylor, Ohio State University (OSU) professor of medical dietetics at the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and senior author of the study, said.

“Not only are we not sleeping when we stay up late, but we’re doing all these obesity-related behaviors: lack of physical activity, increased screen time, food choices that we’re consuming as snacks and not as meals,” he added. “So it creates this bigger impact of meeting or not meeting sleep recommendations.”

Taylor and OSU co-authors Emily Potosky, Randy Wexler and Keeley Pratt divided participants into those who did or did not meet sleep recommendations based on their reporting and used U.S. Department of Agriculture databases to estimate participants’ snack-related nutrient intake, categorizing all snacks into food groups and establishing three snacking time frames.


More than 95% ate at least one snack a day and more than half of snacking calories among all participants came from two categories including soda, energy drinks, chips, pretzels, cookies and pastries.

Those who did not meet sleep recommendations were more likely to eat a morning snack and ate higher quantities of snacks with more calories and less nutritional value.

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“Meeting sleep recommendations helps us meet that specific need for sleep related to our health, but is also tied to not doing the things that can harm health,” said Taylor, a registered dietitian. “The longer we’re awake, the more opportunities we have to eat. And at night, those calories are coming from snacks and sweets. Every time we make those decisions, we’re introducing calories and items related to increased risk for chronic disease, and we’re not getting whole grains, fruits and vegetables.”

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society recommend that adults sleep seven hours or longer per night on a regular basis.

Less sleep is associated with a higher risk of health problems including weight gain and obesity, heart disease and high blood pressure.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that poor sleep can also be linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression and other chronic health conditions.

Julia Musto is a reporter for Fox News Digital. You can find her on Twitter at @JuliaElenaMusto.


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