With lack of sleep already such a problem among North Americans, taking some simple dietary steps to promote better slumber may be something to consider.
A small study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine (2016; 12 ) found that consuming more saturated fat, more sugar and less fiber was associated with lighter, less restorative and more disrupted sleep. Results showed that greater fiber intake predicted more time spent in the stage of deep, slow-wave sleep. In contrast, a higher percentage of energy from saturated fat predicted less slow-wave sleep. Greater sugar intake was also associated with more arousals from sleep.
“Our main finding was that diet quality influenced sleep quality,” said principal investigator Marie-Pierre St-Onge, PhD, assistant professor in the department of medicine and the Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University Medical Center in New York. “It was most surprising that a single day of greater fat intake and lower fiber could influence sleep parameters.”
The study also found that participants fell asleep faster after eating nutritionist-prepared meals that were lower in saturated fat and higher in protein than self-selected meals. It took participants an average of 29 minutes to fall asleep after consuming foods and beverages of their choice, but only 17 minutes to fall asleep after controlled meals.
The randomized, crossover study involved 26 adults—13 men and 13 women—of normal weight, with an average age of 35 years. During 5 nights in a sleep lab, participants spent 9 hours in bed from 10:00 pm to 7:00 am, sleeping for an average of 7 hours and 35 minutes per night. Objective sleep data was gathered nightly by polysomnography. Sleep data was analyzed from night 3, after 3 days of controlled feeding, and from night 5, after 1 day of subjects choosing their own food.
According to the authors, the study suggests that diet-based recommendations could be used to improve sleep in those with poor sleep quality. However, future studies are needed to evaluate this relationship.