People who get too little sleep may find themselves with another but opposite problem, a study suggests — too much eating.

Disrupted or insufficient sleep may be a factor in a person's excessive intake of food, with an increased risk of long-term or chronic health issues for both adults and for children, researchers say.

No one should be surprised that getting too little sleep can leave you tired and crotchety, but scientists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have found it can also leave you hungry.

A sleepless night impairs the hormone that regulates appetite and raises emotional stress levels, leading to a loss of energy that has people craving calories to compensate, the researchers report in the Journal of Health Psychology.

A poor night's sleep also leaves people with reduced impulse control, upping the risk of eating too much — and eating less-than-health foods like candy or snack foods.

The finding should suggest sleep loss as yet another factor that should be considered when counseling someone about weight issues, the researchers say.

"It is well recognized that food intake is implicated in many chronic health issues including obesity, diabetes and heart disease, and diet is often a target of treatment to prevent the onset of these conditions," say researchers Timothy D. Nelson and Alyssa Lundahl. "Understanding the mechanisms linking disrupted sleep patterns to increased food intake is important for informing both prevention and treatment interventions for chronic health conditions."

The exact factors that influence a person's food intake level have long been the subject of debate among scientists and nutritionists.

Most will agree that food intake is propelled by a combination of biological, cognitive, emotional and environmental factors, and the Nebraska researchers would agree but argue that all those factors can be heavily affected by a person's sleep patterns.

People should be aware that if they are suffering from a lack of sleep, they should take even greater pains to be aware of the quality and, most importantly, the quantity, of food they're consuming, notes Dr. David Marks, the editor of the Journal of Health Psychology.

It's something health care professionals should also take into account, Lundahl and Nelson say.

"Health psychologists should be mindful of the link between sleep and eating, and sleep should be actively considered in efforts to modify dietary behavior," they say.

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