Food Insecurity Is Associated with Objectively Measured Sleep Problems

Published in: Behavioral Sleep Medicine, Volume 18, Issue 6, pages 719–729 (2020). doi: 10.1080/15402002.2019.1669605

Posted on RAND.org on March 16, 2021

by Wendy M. Troxel, Ann C. Haas, Bonnie Ghosh-Dastidar, Andrea Richardson, Lauren Hale, Daniel J. Buysse, Matthew Buman, Jonathan Kurka, Tamara Dubowitz

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Objective/Background

Food Insecurity (FI) can be a profound source of stress, which may increase the risk for sleep disturbance. This is the first study to examine the association between FI and objectively and subjectively measured sleep.

Participants

The sample included 785 adults living in two low-income neighborhoods (mean age = 56; 95% African American).

Methods

FI was measured using a validated 10-item survey that assesses conditions and behaviors that characterize households when they lack financial resources to meet basic food needs. Sleep duration, efficiency, wakefulness after sleep onset (WASO), and variability in sleep duration were measured via actigraphy. Sleep quality was assessed via sleep diary. Sleep outcomes were analyzed as a function of FI, adjusting for covariates. Psychological distress was tested as a potential mediator.

Results

Greater FI was associated with shorter actigraphy-assessed sleep duration (B = –2.44; SE = 1.24; i.e., 24 minutes shorter for the most as compared to least insecure group), poorer sleep efficiency (B = –.27; SE = .13); p's < .05), and poorer subjective sleep quality (B = –.03; SE = .01; p < .01). Greater FI was also associated with greater likelihood of short (<7 hours; OR = 1.11; CI: 1.02–1.21) and long sleep (>9 hours; OR = 1.19; CI: 1.01–1.39), compared to the recommended sleep duration of 7–9 hours. Psychological distress partially mediated the association between FI and subjective sleep quality.

Conclusions

Addressing or mitigating food insecurity may present a novel opportunity for improving sleep health among low-income populations.

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