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Early to Rise or Late to Bed? Sleep May Affect Your Eating Habits

April 30, 2017

Your sleep schedule may have a bigger impact on your eating habits than you realize, according to one recent study.

The study, published in the journal Obesity, involved 1,854 people age 25 to 74 who had either participated in a national heart disease study or national nutritional study in Finland in 2007. Participants in the nutrition study were surveyed on their dietary habits and completed a 48-hour food diary detailing what they had eaten during the two previous consecutive days. The health study examined how many hours participants slept every day, the time they regularly woke up and the time of day they worked and or performed hard physical tasks. Researchers then reviewed all this data to find patterns between what they called “timing of energy” and food intake.

They discovered that night owls had lower energy and nutritional intake than early risers, but they also consumed more sugar than study participants who were morning people. Night owls tended to eat later and made poorer food choices — eating more fat and saturated fat late at night than early risers. The gap between morning and evening types widened during weekends, as evening types consumed more unhealthy foods, ate out more and had more irregular meal times than their morning counterparts.

About 50 percent of study participants were early risers, 12 percent were night owls and about 39 percent were somewhere in the middle. Evening types in the study were more likely to be current smokers, women, younger people and less physically active than morning types. More night owls also reported sleeping either more than 10 hours a night or less than five hours a night — two extremes that may have been responsible for this group reporting they experienced insufficient sleep and insomnia. Compared to early risers, fewer night owls rated themselves as being in good health or physically fit.

Eating Patterns & Sleep Habits

Other studies also have shown a clear link between sleep habits and eating patterns. One study by University of Pennsylvania and University of Chicago researchers involving nearly 5,600 people found those who slept less than five hours a night consumed the lowest amount of calories compared to those who got more sleep. They also consumed less lycopene, an antioxidant found in tomatoes, grapefruit, watermelon and other red fruits and vegetables that may lower cancer risk and protect against cell damage. Study participants who got only between five and six hours a sleep a night also consumed less Vitamin C and certain antioxidants that reduce the risk of age-related sight conditions like macular degeneration.

So, why do many night owls tend to eat later and have different eating habits than early risers?

Hormones may have something to do with it. Hormones, which are produced in varying amounts throughout the day, regulate your appetite and can affect your metabolism. How much and when you sleep can affect hormone production, creating different eating patterns in people who are either early birds or night owls.

Researchers in the Finland study say postponed energy and food intake in night owls with poor eating patterns may increase their risk for obesity and metabolic issues in the future.

To reduce your risk of these health conditions, try a few things to change your habits:

  • Eat frequently throughout the day and try to avoid eating late at night, like after 8 p.m.: Consuming high fiber plant foods and lean proteins will keep you from getting so hungry late at night that you reach for processed, unhealthy foods.
  • Stay away from lots of saturated fat.: Red meat, whole-fat dairy products and fast foods contain too much of this fat. Instead, choose foods that contain healthy fats, like olive oil, avocados, fish and nuts.
  • Stick to a sleep schedule: Try to go to bed and wake up the same time every day. To do this, make sure your sleeping environment is as calm and as stimulant-free as possible. Turn off the TV and place your cell phone or tablet in another room where it isn’t within easy reach.

Doing all these things should improve your sleep, and in turn, boost your overall health.

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