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French study links lack of sleep with obesity

Sleep disorders and overeating appear to be linked, according to a recent investigation conducted by the French National Institute of Sleep and Vigilance (INVS) and French health insurer MGEN. Their research indicates an increased risk of being overweight or obese among individuals who fail to get enough sleep.

Published ahead of France's National Sleep Day, March 27, the study includes data on 49,086 individuals and was carried out as part of the national NutriNet-Santé program, which collects health and nutrition data from volunteers online.

According to the results, the average French person sleeps six hours and 48 minutes per night, and one in three Frenchmen reported sleeping less than six hours. The majority of these light sleepers are working adults (61.2%) and young adults (30%). But "sleeping less than six hours in a 24 hour period means exposing oneself to risk of obesity, heart disease, accidents and depression," observes INSV president Damien Léger.

Obesity is more prevalent among the less avid sleepers in the study, which indicated that sleeping less than six hours per night increased the risk of being seriously overweight by 34% for women and by 50% for men.

Rather than a direct causal relationship, the study highlights a vicious cycle, revealing that insomnia is also more prevalent among the obese. This relationship is particularly evident among obese women, 27% of whom are insomniacs, according to the study, compared to 19% of non-obese women. The risk of severe drowsiness and sleep apnea is also higher among the obese.

On a related note, the researchers observed a significant relationship between diet and sleep health. For example, the male insomniacs surveyed consume fewer fruits and vegetables and more red meat than healthy sleepers. Unsurprisingly, the study also pointed to a link between insomnia and excessive coffee intake.

Another piece of the puzzle is that poor sleeping habits also lead to poor eating habits, in part due to the hormonal disturbances caused by a lack of sleep. The result is increased snacking outside of mealtimes, namely at night, when cravings for high-energy sugary foods are frequent due to fatigue. This may be one reason that a lack of sleep is also linked with a risk of Type 2 diabetes.

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