Dietician Dr Michelle Blumfield, who led a team of researchers from Monash University, assessed the sleeping behaviours and food choices of more than 7,000 Australian women aged 31-36 years.
The research presented at the Dietitians Association of Australia’s National Conference in Melbourne last week, found women who slept the least - around six hours a night - often with severe tiredness and sleeping difficulties, took in more of their daily kilojoules from fat and saturated fat.
It also found sleeping difficulties were linked with a heavier body weight, and poorer mental and physical health, as perceived by the study participants.
"Our research shows lack of sleep can lead to poorer dietary choices in women of childbearing age, and this can impact on the health of their children," said Dr Blumfield.
She said improving sleep patterns, in conjunction with dietary and physical activity strategies, may assist women to optimise their dietary intake in preparation for pregnancy.
"A nutritious diet and a healthy body weight before conception and during pregnancy are vital. Whereas poor nutrition and excess body weight can change the intrauterine environment, which affects childhood growth and plays a part in the risk of obesity and certain diseases later in a child’s life," said Dr Blumfield.
Currently, one in three Australian women is overweight or obese at the start of pregnancy, which increases the risk for both mother and baby. And research shows a mother’s Body Mass Index (BMI) at the start of pregnancy is a key predictor of her child’s future weight.
"Our sleeping patterns aren’t set in concrete – they can be changed. An easy win to help women, including mums-to-be, improve their diet is to work on getting a better night’s sleep. What’s not to like about that?" said Dr Blumfield.
Dietitians Association of Australia President Liz Kellett encouraged all women to focus on the quality of their diet by choosing a wide variety of healthy foods, including plenty of vegetables, along with fruit, wholegrain bread and cereals, lean meats, reduced-fat dairy foods, and healthy fats, from foods like nuts, avocado and olive oil.