Are you getting a good night’s sleep these days? Not too many of us are, based on comments I hear from friends, family, fellow professionals, and the average news report which seems to always have a new study or survey covering sleep issues. Researchers involved in a new study have already released online information, ahead of the anticipated May publication in the journal Appetite, that may offer some provocative food clues to help us achieve more normal patterns of sleep. Good sleep may be just a mouthful away.
Studies have already shed light on the connection between food and sleep, in the sense that healthy eaters tend to have better overall health, and healthier people usually sleep better. Few studies have looked at specific foods or eating patterns and sleep duration or quality. Certainly it's interesting to wonder about the differences in the dietary choices of people who sleep for shorter cycles, those who sleep for longer cycles or the individuals who sleep for the normal 7 to 8 hour cycle. Researchers referred to a well known survey, NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) and extrapolated data from specific years in the survey. In short, they found that people who sleep less hours or more hours than the normal 7 to 8 hours, have “less food variety” in their diets.
Specifically, the NHANES was so detail oriented, that the researchers could tally information including beverage consumption, calorie consumption and breakdown ingredients of each meal and snack of the day, and then reference the individual's sleep habit. The researchers found that “variety” in food choices was most prominent in the normal sleepers. There were also some key nutrients that appeared to track with the sleep patterns:
- Short sleep was linked to less tap water consumption, less lycopene and lower intake of total carbohydrates
- Short sleep was also associated with lower intake of tap water, vitamin C, selenium (nuts and shellfish), and higher intake of lutein/zeaxanthin (leafy greens).
- Long sleep linked to lower intake of choline (eggs, red meats), theobromine (chocolate and teas), dodecanoic acid (saturated fats), total carbohydrates and higher consumption of alcoholic beverages.
The question that remains is, if people decide to use this food information as a guideline for eating, can the variety of these dietary preferences help to normalize their sleep patterns? Since long sleep patterns in particular, are also associated with poorer health, just improving your diet may improve your health and, by default, help to adjust your sleep pattern. Certainly if this research spurs other studies that pinpoint targeted consumption of certain nutrients, and connect that kind of diet to better sleep, the outcome could help a population that currently complains about very poor sleep.
Amy Hendel is a health professional, journalist and host of Food Rescue, Simple Smoothies and What’s for Lunch?
Author of Fat Families, Thin Families and The 4 Habits of Healthy Families, she tweets health headlines daily #HealthGal1103. Catch her guest appearances on Marie! on Hallmark and other local and national news and talk shows.