Can Our Food Affect Our Sleep?

Can Our Food Affect Our Sleep?

Do the foods we eat - or don’t eat, for that matter - really influence our sleep patterns? New research suggests that they might.

A common piece of folk wisdom is to avoid eating a big meal before bed, or else we won’t sleep well. But do the foods we eat—or don’t eat, for that matter—really influence our sleep patterns? New research suggests that they might.

Researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania wanted to discover if certain nutrients could affect our sleep, leading to shorter or longer sleep durations. In their survey, participants were divided into groups based on their typical sleep duration:

  • very short sleep pattern:  fewer than five hours per night
  • short sleep pattern: five to six hours per night
  • standard sleep pattern: seven to eight hours per night
  • long sleep pattern: nine or more hours per night

The standard length of seven to eight hours is considered to be the optimal sleep duration, and a key part of overall health.  Previous research also shows that short sleep patterns are linked to obesity, weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease.

The participants also discussed their full day’s dietary intake, in detail, including how much water they drank.

The results

Here’s a bit of what the researchers found, based on the sleep pattern groups.

  • very short sleep pattern:  lowest food variety; less intake of tap water, lycopene , and total carbohydrates
  • short sleep pattern: most calories consumed; less vitamin C, tap water, and selenium; and more lutein/zeaxanthin
  • standard sleep pattern: most food variety
  • long sleep pattern: least calories consumed; less intake of theobromine, a saturated fat called dodecanoic acid, choline, and total carbohydrates; and more alcohol

Although the researchers don’t know yet if altering our diets could change our sleep patterns, it’s always a good idea to eat a varied and healthy diet. These alive articles discuss some of the key nutrients mentioned above, that short and long sleepers could be missing out on:

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