Changing behavior by avoiding the late night snacking, in particular, could help adults not only meet the sleep guidelines, but also improve their diet.
Sleep is essential for optimal health. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society developed a consensus recommendation for the amount of sleep needed to promote optimal health in adults. The recommendation is summarized here.
Sleeping less than 7 hours per night on a regular basis is associated with adverse health outcomes, including weight gain and obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and stroke, depression, and increased risk of death. Sleeping less than 7 hours per night is also associated with impaired immune function, increased pain, impaired performance, increased errors, and greater risk of accidents.
Sleeping more than 9 hours per night on a regular basis may be appropriate for young adults, individuals recovering from sleep debt, and individuals with illnesses. For others, it is uncertain whether sleeping more than 9 hours per night is associated with health risk.
People concerned they are sleeping too little or too much should consult their healthcare provider.
Research also revealed what appears to be a popular American habit not influenced by how much we sleep: snacking at night. It turns out that the favored non-meal food categories — salty snacks and sweets and non-alcoholic drinks — are the same among adults regardless of sleep habits, but those getting less sleep tend to eat more snack calories in a day overall. A link has been identified between not meeting sleep recommendations and eating more snack-related carbohydrates, added sugar, fats, and caffeine.
At night, we’re drinking our calories and eating a lot of convenience foods, according to Christopher Taylor, professor of medical dietetics in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at The Ohio State University. “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. So it creates this bigger impact of meeting or not meeting sleep recommendations.”
Statistical analysis in the study 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, and ate higher quantities of snacks with more calories and less nutritional value.
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. 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. Even if you’re in bed and trying to fall asleep, at least you’re not in the kitchen eating — so if you can get yourself to bed, that’s a starting point.