Excessive eating may be due to a bad night’s sleep, a study published in the Journal of Health Psychology has proposed.

The study evaluated how disrupted sleep and excess food intake are correlated, placing both adults and children at risk for long-term health conditions (eg, obesity, diabetes). Study authors from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln reported that after a bad night’s sleep, the appetite-controlling hormone is impacted, emotional stress is higher, and more food is desired to compensate for the lack of energy and increased impulsivity, which ultimately affects the amount of food consumed in a day. Biological, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral mechanisms were all found to play a role in the relationship. Some studies showed that after limited sleep, neural activation in the orbitofrontal cortex was higher in response to food images vs. non-food images. Also, people with disrupted sleep patterns had higher response levels to the rewarding values of food.

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Review of literature also found that people of low socioeconomic status and/or those living in stressful environments may be at increased risk for both sleep problems and excess food intake. One study found that both children and adults of low socioeconomic status have shorter sleep hours and/or poorer sleep quality; a poorer quality diet was also seen in these individuals with less fresh fruits and vegetables and more refined grains, fat, and sugar.

Researchers conclude that health psychologists should be more aware of the link between sleep and eating, and that sleep should be an integral factor when modifying dietary behavior. Addressing sleep problems may indirectly improve food consumption. More research is needed to study the impact of disrupted sleep on food intake through impairment in executive functioning, changes in reward sensitivity, increases in negative affectivity and/or emotional dysregulation, and increases in impulsivity.

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