Cutting comfort foods ‘can help students sleep better

UNIVERSITY students can improve the quality of their sleep by managing stress and cutting down on impulsive eating binges, according to a recent Bahrain and UAE-based study.

The study, titled ‘Relationship between hedonic hunger and subjectively assessed sleep quality and perceived stress among university students, was conducted by a team of researchers from the Bahrain Defence Force Royal Medical Services and Sharjah-based Research Institute of Medical and Health Sciences (RIMHS).

“To our knowledge, this was the first research conducted in the GCC region that analysed the relationship between hedonic hunger, sleep and stress among university students,” researchers noted in the report.

“Our sample of 565 participants was also sufficient for a cross-sectional study and included students from 33 universities from two countries in the GCC region (UAE and Bahrain), whereas many previous studies focused on one university in one country.”

Hedonic hunger refers to a preoccupation with and desire to consume foods for pleasure and in the absence of physical hunger.

Researchers used four international measuring and assessment mechanisms – the Palatable Eating Motive Scale (PEMS), Power of Food Scale (PFS), Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) and the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) – to assess eating motivations, hunger, stress and sleep quality, respectively.

Each of these scales has a set of questions associated with them, which were posed to students through surveys.

“We found strong associations between high hedonic hunger, poor sleep quality and high-stress levels,” researchers noted.

“Food consumption is regulated by two different pathways: homeostatic and hedonic.

“Hedonic pathways indicate that there is an increased desire to consume highly palatable foods during periods of energy abundance.”

The study clarifies that it did not establish causality but noticed the three factors moved hand-in-hand.

“Due to the bidirectional relationship of the examined outcomes, it can be concluded that reducing hedonic hunger and stress levels may help to enhance sleep quality, conversely, improving sleep quality and reducing stress levels may help alleviate hedonic hunger among university students,” researchers added.

Nutritionists agree and urge students and others not to rely too much on comfort foods, which are often eaten in response to a hormone called cortisol, released as part of the human body’s stress response, which increases hunger.

American Mission Hospital dietician Abigail Carolin David cautions that although having sugar-and carbohydrate-rich food boosts serotonin immediately making one feel better, the impending blood sugar drop will leave the body feeling tired and shaky.

Ms David also suggests mindful eating, which is a model in which people develop a better understanding of why, when, what, how, how much and where they eat.

During Ramadan, Ms David also recommends that Muslim university students exercise after breaking their fast at iftar time, since it helps improve sleep quality.

“One of the most common mistakes is to eat snacks after iftar to suppress your appetite and then go to sleep, skipping suhoor and staying hungry until the next iftar,” she added.

“You should always eat during suhoor, preferably right before fasting starts.

“Eating before bedtime or avoiding eating during suhoor may cause serious low blood sugar problems and dehydration the next day. As a result, you could feel dizzy and distracted during the day.”


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