Lack of sleep linked to poor diet and obesity

Dr Michelle Blumfield

Dr Michelle Blumfield

In the largest Australian study into links between sleep and diet, Victorian researchers have found that without a good night’s sleep, women of child-bearing age reach for fattier foods to help them through the day.

Dr Michelle Blumfield, who led a team of researchers from Monash University, assessed the sleeping behaviours and food choices of more than 7000 Australian women aged 31-36 years.

According to Dr Blumfield, whose work was presented at the Dietitians Association of Australia’s National Conference in Melbourne last week, women who slept the least, at around six hours a night, often with severe tiredness and sleeping difficulties, took in more of their daily kilojoules from fat and saturated fat.

She also found sleeping difficulties were linked with a heavier body weight, and poorer mental and physical health, as perceived by the study participants.

“Our research shows lack of sleep can lead to poorer dietary choices in women of childbearing age, and this can impact on the health of their children," said Dr Blumfield, an Accredited Practising Dietitian.

She said improving sleep patterns, in conjunction with dietary and physical activity strategies, may assist women to optimise their dietary intake in preparation for pregnancy.

"A nutritious diet and a healthy body weight before conception and during pregnancy are vital. Whereas poor nutrition and excess body weight can change the intrauterine environment, which affects childhood growth and plays a part in the risk of obesity and certain diseases later in a child’s life," said Dr Blumfield.

Currently one in three Australian women are overweight or obese at the start of pregnancy, which increases the risk for both mother and baby. And research shows a mother’s Body Mass Index (BMI) at the start of pregnancy is a key predictor of her child’s future weight.

“Our sleeping patterns aren’t set in concrete – they can be changed. An easy win to help women, including mums-to-be, improve their diet is to work on getting a better night’s sleep. What’s not to like about that?"