Women who sleep poorly tend to overeat and consume a lower-quality diet, say researchers, adding that poor sleep quality can increase the risk of heart disease and obesity.
Previous studies have shown that people who get less sleep are more likely to develop obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease--and that the relationship may be partially explained by diet.
The current study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, was designed to get a more comprehensive picture in women by examining associations between overall diet quality and multiple aspects of sleep quality.
"Women are particularly prone to sleep disturbances across the life span, because they often shoulder the responsibilities of caring for children and family and, later, because of menopausal hormones," said Indian-origin researcher and study senior author Brooke Aggarwal from Columbia University Vagelos.
For the findings, the researchers analysed the sleep and eating habits of an ethnically diverse group of 495 women, ages 20 to 76.
The study looked at sleep quality, the time it took to fall asleep, and insomnia.
The women also reported on the types and amounts of foods they typically eat throughout the year, allowing researchers to measure their typical dietary patterns.
Similar to previous studies of sleep and diet, the study found that those with worse overall sleep quality consumed more of the added sugars associated with obesity and diabetes.
Women who took longer to fall asleep had higher caloric intake and ate more food by weight, the researchers said.
And women with more severe insomnia symptoms consumed more food by weight and fewer unsaturated fats than women with milder insomnia.
"Our interpretation is that women with poor-quality sleep could be overeating during subsequent meals and making more unhealthy food choices," said Aggarwal.
"Poor sleep quality may lead to excessive food and calorie intake by stimulating hunger signals or suppressing signals of fullness," said study lead author Faris Zuraikat.
"Fullness is largely affected by the weight or volume of food consumed, and it could be that women with insomnia consume a greater amount of food in an effort to feel full," Zuraikat added.
"However, it's also possible that poor diet has a negative impact on women's sleep quality, eating more could also cause gastrointestinal discomfort, for instance, making it harder to fall asleep or remain asleep," Zuraikat concluded.