Have you ever considered your diet to be connected to your sleep?
What kind of food choices do you make when you are tired vs the times you are well rested?
Not often a topic we immediately link together, but there is increasing evidence on the relationship between the foods we eat and our sleep. This article will explore sleep and diet, and the cool areas of nutrition research that have enhanced our understandings – let’s take a quick dive into the research on the relationship between diet and our sleep.
What foods can affect our sleep?
A randomized control trial is considered the gold standard in research. And one such 2016 study found that diets high in fibre and lower in saturated fat predicted better quality of sleep. Similarly, diets lower in fibre, and higher in saturated fat and sugar are associated with lighter, less restorative sleep with more arousal.
One diet strategy that is also implicated in sleep is the Mediterranean diet. This diet is high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds, olive oil, and seafood. Since sleep duration and quality are also predictors of risk for heart disease, one research study investigated if there was a link between following this well-known “heart-healthy” eating pattern and sleep. Their findings? Highly suggestive that a Mediterranean-style diet is associated with adequate sleep duration, fewer symptoms of insomnia, and less likely to have insomnia accompanied by short sleep.
Taken together, the Mediterranean dietary pattern is consistent with the findings from the randomized control trial on high fibre, low saturated fat, and low sugar in the management of better sleep quality and quantity.
Fun facts and promising research from smaller studies
- Alcohol may help to induce sleep, but it alters the sleep pattern and is associated with disrupted, poor-quality sleep.
- Daily caffeine intake is strongly associated with altered sleep onset, duration, and perceived quality.
- Adequate protein may enhance sleep, potentially through tryptophan.
- Certain types of cherries may increase melatonin (the sleep hormone) in the urine, total sleep time, and sleep quality. Other sleep benefits were also observed. This positive impact, if confirmed, is likely due to the high concentration of melatonin in cherries, and their high levels of antioxidants.
- Kiwifruit has also been implicated in improving sleep. One four-week study in adults with sleep problems found that two kiwifruits per day one hour before bedtime significantly increased sleep quantity and quality, potentially due to its unusually high content of serotonin, folate, and high antioxidant capacity.
There is much more research in this area, beyond the scope of this month’s article. But it’s important to note that some of these studies are small, and limited in their design and application. Further research is needed in larger, different populations to identify potential roles for specific nutrients.
Sleep and diet are connected. The Mediterranean dietary pattern appears to be one way to help improve sleep, and ensuring proper sleep appears to encourage food choice and quantity. One of the challenges in nutrition research and sleep is determining whether it is sleep affecting diet, or diet affecting sleep. But the relationship is evidenced through emerging research such as those discussed here and is becoming increasingly clear that it’s likely a combination of both.
I invite you to reflect on your relationship between diet and sleep, and how you may be able to improve one, by improving the other.
Everything in nutrition and lifestyle is connected! Stay happy, healthy, and motivated!