You are what you eat. And you may sleep how you eat too. A new study suggests that diet affects sleep patterns.
The study, conducted by the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, shows an association between what we eat and how we sleep. To make this connection, researchers examined the daily caloric intake — including what people ate and drank including water — of people who were part of a previous National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They gathered information on the amount of time the participants slept. The participants were put into categories: very short, short, standard, and long sleepers. Very short sleepers slept fewer than five hours a night. Short sleepers slept between five and six hours, while standard slept seven to eight. Long sleepers slept nine hours or more a night.
Study researcher Michael A. Grandner, Ph.D., of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology, said, “In general, we know that those who report between [seven to eight] hours of sleep each night are most likely to experience better overall health and well being, so we simply asked the question, ‘Are there differences in the diet of those who report shorter sleep, longer sleep, or standard sleep patterns?’ ”
Researchers did, in fact, find a connection between the number of calories consumed and how long the study participants slept. Those who consumed the most were more likely to be short sleepers. Normal sleepers were surprisingly the next type to consume a lot of calories, followed by very short sleepers, then long sleepers.
Very short sleepers consumed less tap water, total carbohydrates, and a compound found in red and orange foods. Meanwhile long sleepers consumed less of a compound found in tea and chocolate as well as the nutrient choline, found in eggs and some meats. They also consumed more alcohol.
Overall, researchers found that those who were very short sleepers and long sleepers consumed a less varied diet that those considered normal sleepers.
The question is now whether changing eating habits can actually affect sleep, as the study only showed an association.
“This will be an important area to explore going forward as we know that short sleep duration is associated with weight gain and obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease,” Grandner said in the statement. “Likewise, we know that people who sleep too long also experience negative health consequences. If we can pinpoint the ideal mix of nutrients and calories to promote healthy sleep, the healthcare community has the potential to make a major dent in obesity and other cardiometabolic risk factors.”
The study, it is important to note, only showed an association. In other words, it doesn’t prove that eating certain foods cause a person to have shorter or longer sleep patterns. The finding are interesting, however, because it show that sleep and diet are related.
The information could influence risk for obesity and other weight-related issues. Recent studies have also shown that when you eat can affect weight gain. With obesity on the rise — and many Americans unaware of the dangers of weight-related illness — research that can influence risk for obesity is important.
As one of the first studies to look into the role that diet plays on sleep quality, the findings are “more hypothesis-generating than confirming,” but are valuable for future study. “It was like, ‘no one has ever entered this country before, let’s go in and take some pictures,’ ” says Grandner.
From personal experience, do you think that what you eat affects how you sleep?