This article was originally published on Thrive Global.
Being sleep-deprived can lead to a lot of negative consequences, from poor decision-making to a less than sunny disposition. In the past, research has shown the link between the amount of sleep we regularly get and our weight, but a recent study reported on by Health had an unexpected finding: While people who slept less weighed more and had bigger waistlines, researchers found no link between lack of sleep and poor diet choices.
The study surveyed 1,615 adults in the United Kingdom to look at the relationship between sleep, diet and metabolism. Participants’ height, weight, waist circumference and blood pressure were measured, and blood samples were taken. Finally, participants submitted three to four days of food journals so the researchers could get a sense of what they ate.
The researchers found that participants who slept less had lower HDL cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol that helps remove the “bad” cholesterol from our bloodstream and helps lower our risk of heart disease. Less sleep was also linked to increased BMI and waist circumference; participants who slept an average of an hour more per night had an average waist circumference 0.3 inches smaller than their less-rested counterparts.
What the study didn’t find was an association between sleep duration and dietary quality. According to Health, previous studies have suggested that loss of sleep tends to lead to sugar and fat cravings as well as reduced willpower. (Haven’t we all given in to a less-than-healthy breakfast option after a bad night’s sleep?)
The study’s co-author, Greg Potter, PhD, a researcher at the University of Leeds, noted to Health that the study did have some limitations, including a small number of participants, self-reported food intake and a fairly short duration of food intake reporting.
Despite these limitations though, the study’s findings have introduced a new theory worth paying attention to. Health points out that there may another player, outside of diet, in the sleep-weight relationship. In this case, the researchers hypothesize that shorter sleepers may actually have slower metabolisms. Potter told Health that “our findings suggest that people sleeping in this seven to nine hour range are less likely to be overweight than those sleeping less.”
This study is part of a growing literature connecting lack of sleep to weight gain, further highlighting the importance of getting adequate sleep every night.