Diet and Sleep: New Research

What’s causing your poor night’s sleep? New research suggests that it may be your diet. Although it’s been well-documented that overeating can hinder sleep, especially too close to bedtime, two new studies have shed more light on the relationship between sleep and diet.

There has been little research done to understand how types of foods an individual consumes impacts their sleep.  We know that tryptophan-rich foods make the best bedtime snacks, but what about all the foods you consume earlier in the day? A recent study completed by the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and published in Appetite, sought to understand how the the types of foods a person eats affects their sleep. Analyzing data from over 4500 people, the researchers divided the participants into four groups based on their sleep patterns: “Very Short” sleepers were those that slept less than 5 hours per night, ”Short” slept 5-6 hours per night, ”Standard’’ got 7-8 hours of shut-eye, and ”Long” sleepers slept for 9 hours or more.

Interestingly, the researchers identified very distinct dietary consumption patterns amongst the three groups.  For example, the “Very Short” sleepers ate less red and orange-coloured fruits and vegetables (i.e., foods which are rich in antioxidants and vitamins.) Short sleepers ate more lutein –  a substance found in leafy greens, but had a lower intake of vitamin C and tap water. Longer sleepers consumed the most alcohol. The “Standard” sleepers were found to have the most varied and well-rounded diet.

In a second recent study, researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden looked at how eating patterns changed after a restless night.  They monitored the food choices of 16 normal-weight male participants under buffet-like conditions after they were forced to stay awake all night, and then again after a night with eight hours of rest. According to lead researcher Pleunie Hogenkamp: “After a night of total sleep loss, [the sleep-deprived] males chose greater portion sizes of the energy-dense foods. Interestingly, they did so both before and after a breakfast, suggesting that sleep deprivation enhances food intake regardless of satiety.”

While we can expect to see more studies dig further into the relationship between sleep and diet, these two studies are certainly sleep-supportive. The bottom line is that getting 7-8 hours sleep per night will help you to make wiser food choices and maintain a well-balanced diet.

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