New US research has found that a lack of sleep may increase the risk of obesity and diabetes by increasing cravings for junk food and nighttime snacks.
Carried out by researchers at the University of Arizona, the study looked at responses taken from a nationwide, phone-based survey of 3,105 adults from 23 US metropolitan areas.
The survey asked participants about their sleep quality and any existing health problems, if they regularly ate a nighttime snack, and whether lack of sleep led them to crave more junk food.
The researchers found that around 60 percent of those surveyed reported that they regularly had a nighttime snack, and around two-thirds reported that a lack of sleep led them to crave junk food. Poor sleep quality also appeared to be a strong predictor of junk food cravings.
Having junk food cravings also doubled the likelihood that the participants would have a nighttime snack, which in turn was associated with an increased risk for diabetes.
Participants with junk food cravings were also more likely to report health problems such as diabetes and obesity.
The researchers commented on the findings saying that the results represent a potential link between poor sleep and obesity.
"Laboratory studies suggest 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 provides important information about the process, that these laboratory findings may actually translate to the real world," noted one of the study's authors Michael A. Grandner. "This connection between poor sleep, junk food cravings and unhealthy nighttime snacking may represent an important way that sleep helps regulate metabolism."
Previous research has also linked a lack of sleep to an increased risk of obesity, with a UK study finding that sleep-deprived adults were more likely to carry extra centimeters around the waist, with those sleeping six hours per night carrying up to three centimeters more than those getting nine hours' sleep.
Another UK study also found that children and teenagers who fail to get the recommended amount of sleep for their age have a higher risk of developing obesity, while research published last year found that Chinese children who go to bed later and sleep less are more likely to be overweight than those who slept longer, with BMI increasing slightly for every hour later that a child goes to bed.
A third of US adults report that they usually get less than the recommended amount of sleep according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The findings will be presented at SLEEP 2018, the 32nd annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC (APSS) which takes place June 2-6 in Baltimore, U.S.A.