Snacking in the late hours of the night may not bring many consequences if done every now and again, but if you're a habitual night-time fridge raider, then you may be putting your health at risk.
A study from last year suggested that snacking beyond bedtime could lead to skin damage by altering the production of a protective enzyme.
And, according to a new study from the University of Arizona in Tucson, people who have a hard time falling asleep at night are some of the most exposed to munching in the later hours, which may increase their risk of obesity and diabetes.
"Laboratory studies suggest," explains co-author Michael A. Grandner, "that sleep deprivation can lead to junk food cravings at night, which leads to increased unhealthy snacking at night, which then leads to weight gain."
"This study," he adds, "provides important information about the process, that these laboratory findings may actually translate to the real world."
Poor sleep and junk food cravings related
Grandner and his colleagues collected their data through phone-based surveys, and, in total, they analyzed sleep- and diet-related information from 3,105 adults from 23 metropolitan areas across the United States.
In the surveys, the respondents were quizzed about their night-time snacking habits, sleep quality, and any diagnosed health issues. The participants were also asked whether sleep deprivation made them want to munch on junk foods.
Approximately 60 percent of the respondents admitted to snacking late at night on a regular basis, while two thirds of them said that sleeplessness made them reach for unhealthful snacks.
Grandner and colleagues also observed that people who reported junk food cravings were twice as likely as peers to indulge in night-time fridge raids, and that this, in turn, was linked to a heightened risk of developing diabetes.
Moreover, the researchers found that sleep deprivation was a reliable predictor of cravings for unhealthful snacks, while these cravings were tied to a higher likelihood of an obesity or diabetes diagnosis.
"This connection between poor sleep, junk food cravings, and unhealthy night-time snacking may represent an important way that sleep helps regulate metabolism," Grandner hypothesizes.
Between 50 and 70 million U.S. individuals live with a sleep disorder, according to data from the American Sleep Association.
And because, as the new study reports, sleep duration and quality and eating habits are closely linked, the effects that lack of sleep can have on a person's diet and metabolic health must be taken very seriously.
Making sure that we do everything we can to have a restful night's sleep may actually help to improve our dietary habits and keep metabolic conditions at bay, the study suggests.
"Sleep is increasingly recognized as an important factor in health, alongside nutrition. This study shows how sleep and eating patterns are linked and work together to promote health."
Lead study author Christopher Sanchez