Sleeping less than seven hours a night contributes to more secondary eating and drinking, thus increasing obesity risk, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Alabama.

The link between short sleep and obesity had been previously identified, however this study specifically looked at the association between short sleep times and secondary eating—eating while engaged in another activity.  Researchers analyzed data between 2006 and 2008 from the American Time Use Survey. This included 28,150 Americans ranging in ages from 21–65. The team primarily analyzed time spent on secondary eating and drinking in addition to primary eating and drinking, with sleep duration as the main independent variable.

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Those who reported sleeping for shorter periods (less than 7 hours) engaged in an extra 8.7 minutes a day of secondary eating, compared to those who reported normal sleep durations (7–8 hours). Secondary drinking increased 28.6 minutes longer on weekdays for those who had shorter sleep times, and 31.28 minutes longer on weekends.

“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,” said the authors.