Food Insecurity Linked to Poor Sleep Patterns, Study Finds

Food and sleep are two of the fundamental necessities of life, but the complexity of their interconnectedness is only recently being fully explored.

Yale School of Public Health alumna Monica Jordan, M.P.H. ’14, led a study that found a strong correlation between food insecurity and sleep patterns among Mexican adults. The research, which was done as part of Jordan’s student thesis, was published recently in the Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health.

“I felt it would be a good addition to the literature,” said Jordan, who now works at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. “To our knowledge, it is the first study of food insecurity and sleep patterns in a sample of adults from a low- or middle-income country.”

Jordan chose Mexico because she had access to a robust data set that she used for her study. The data came from 11,356 households and included variables such as age, gender, rural/urban settings, household size, history of depression and body mass index. Participants self-reported their sleep duration and quality.

The study found a significant association between severe household food insecurity and not enough sleep and/or poor quality sleep. Jordan couldn’t say whether this was due to a physical response, such as lack of nutrients or emotional stressors. “We did test for depression, but that didn’t show to be a mediator,” she said.

One striking finding, Jordan said, was that the odds of reporting poor sleep quality increased as the level of household food insecurity increased. In particular, those reporting severe household food insecurity had nearly twice the odds of reporting poor sleep quality. She noted that females reported poorer sleep quality than men. “None of the individual characteristics stood out, except sex,” she said.

Associate Professor Mayur Desai, who along with YSPH Professor Rafael Perez-Escamilla advised Jordan on her study, said that the published research is another example of YSPH students doing high-impact work, making valuable contributions to the literature and positively impacting public health. “I am very enthusiastic about and proud of Monica’s work,” Desai said.

A number of studies have shown associations between sleep patterns and non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, depression, myocardial infarction and stroke. “Previously it was thought that the main issue relating to poor sleep was daytime drowsiness, but these studies have shown the severity of problems that are linked with sub-optimal sleep,” she said.

Since food insecurity has now been shown to affect sleep patterns, and sleep has been connected to non-communicable diseases, Jordan believes the study points to the need to address household food insecurity in Mexico and other low- and middle- income settings. Specifically, these countries should consider adding sleep indicators in their evaluations of food and nutrition security programs.

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