It is hailed as the gold standard, the threshold all should aspire to achieve – seven hours’ sleep a night. Banish smartphones and tablets from bedrooms, turn off television screens at least half an hour before going to bed. This advise may now take on even greater weight, after scientists found a link between a lack of sleep and obesity.
Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham discovered that not enough sleep – defined as less than seven hours – is linked to distracted eating and drinking.
Dr Gabriel Tajeu of UAB’s Department of Epidemiology said: ‘This potentially suggests a pathway from short sleep to increased caloric intake in the form of beverages and distracted eating and thus potential increased obesity risk, although more research is needed.’
The association between short sleep and obesity is ‘well-established’, but this study is the first to uncover its link to increased eating or drinking.
Dr Tajeu said: ‘We are looking at whether short sleep is linked to more time in secondary eating or drinking. That is, eating or drinking beverages other than water – such as sugar-sweetened beverages – while primarily engaged in another activity, such as television watching.’
Researchers looked at data from 28,150 US adults – 55.8 per cent of whom were female – between the ages of 21 and 65, who participated in the American Time Use Survey between 2006 and 2008.
Participants with short sleep were found to engage in secondary eating an additional 8.7 minutes a day. They also experienced an additional 28.6 and 31.28 minutes of secondary drinking on weekdays and weekends. The study determined this amount by assessing time spent on secondary eating and drinking, in addition to primary eating and drinking.
Sleep duration was used as the principal independent variable.
Researchers estimated multivariable regression models – a technique that uses multiple variables, such as demographic characteristics, socioeconomic characteristics and weekday versus weekend participation in the study.
The method was used to determine the association of short sleep with eating and drinking behaviors.
The responses of those who got less than seven hours of sleep each night were compared with those who experienced normal sleep – that is, between seven and eight hours.
The study was published in the American Journal of Health Promotion.