For Better Sleep, Look at How You Eat

Poor sleep linked to diet low in fiber, high in saturated fat, sugar


Having trouble catching Zzz's? Here's what you should be eating for a good night's rest.

In a new study, researchers from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) linked a diet low in fiber, but high in saturated fat and sugar to lighter, less restorative and more disrupted sleep.

"This study emphasizes the fact that diet and sleep are interwoven in the fabric of a healthy lifestyle," said AASM President Nathaniel Watson, MD, in a press release. "For optimal health it is important to make lifestyle choices that promote healthy sleep, such as eating a nutritious diet and exercising regularly."

For this study, researchers looked at 26 men and women with a normal weight and an average age of 35. During five nights in a sleep lab, participants spent nine hours in bed, sleeping an average of 7.5 hours per night.

Sleep data was analyzed from night 3, after three days of controlled food intake, and night 5, after one day of self-selected food intake.

Higher fiber intake was linked to more time spent in slow wave, or deep sleep. By contrast, higher saturated fat intake was linked to less deep sleep. Higher sugar intake was linked to more disrupted sleep.

Participants also tended to fall asleep faster after eating meals chosen by a nutritionist, which 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 eating controlled meals.

"Our main finding was that diet quality influenced sleep quality," said lead study author Marie-Pierre St-Onge, PhD, a professor of clinical nutrition at Columbia University, in a press release. "It was most surprising that a single day of greater fat intake and lower fiber could influence sleep parameters."

Dr. St-Onge and team said that, while these findings suggest that dietary interventions could be used to improve sleep in patients with insomnia, more research is still needed.

This study was published Jan. 14 in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

The National Institutes of Health and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences funded this research. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.