New research finds that eating less fiber, more saturated fat and more sugar can lead to shallow, less restorative, and more disrupted sleep.
Investigators discovered greater fiber intake was linked to more time spent in the stage of deep, slow wave sleep. In contrast, a saturated fat diet predicted less slow wave or restorative sleep. Greater sugar intake also was associated with more arousals from sleep.
“Our main finding was that diet quality influenced sleep quality,” said principal investigator Marie-Pierre St-Onge, Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of medicine and Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, N.Y.
“It was most surprising that a single day of greater fat intake and lower fiber could influence sleep parameters.”
Study results appear in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
“This study emphasizes the fact that diet and sleep are interwoven in the fabric of a healthy lifestyle,” said American Academy of Sleep Medicine President Dr. Nathaniel Watson, who was not involved in the study.
“For optimal health it is important to make lifestyle choices that promote healthy sleep, such as eating a nutritious diet and exercising regularly.”
Researchers also found that participants fell asleep faster after eating fixed meals provided by a nutritionist. These meals were lower in saturated fat and higher in protein than self-selected meals.
On average, it took participants 29 minutes to fall asleep after consuming foods and beverages of their choice, but only 17 minutes to fall asleep after eating controlled meals.
“The finding that diet can influence sleep has tremendous health implications, given the increasing recognition of the role of sleep in the development of chronic disorders such as hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” said St-Onge.
Researchers used a randomized, crossover study design. Participants included 26 adults — 13 men and 13 women — who had a normal weight and an average age of 35 years. During five nights in a sleep lab, participants spent nine hours in bed from 10:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., sleeping for seven hours and 35 minutes on average per night.
Objective sleep data were gathered nightly by polysomnograhy. Sleep data were analyzed from night three, after three days of controlled feeding, and night five, after one day of ad libitum food intake.
The findings are significant for people experiencing poor sleep quality. For these individuals, diet-based recommendations may provide timely assistance.
Future studies will be ongoing to evaluate the relationship between diet and sleep.