The Finnish Diet That Can Improve Your Sleep in Six Months

by Martin Reed Patient Advocate

Our sleep is influenced by the food we eat. One study published in 2016 concluded that low fiber, high saturated fat, and high sugar intake is associated with lighter, less restorative sleep and more nighttime awakenings.

That being said, there is a lack of research when it comes to studying the effect of diet change on individuals suffering from insomnia.

Finnish research published in the journal Nutrients set out to determine the effect of a six-month diet intervention on sleep among men with chronic insomnia symptoms.

The study recruited 49 men between 30 and 65 years of age who had been suffering from chronic insomnia for at least three months. Forty-six of the men had a Body Mass Index (BMI) of at least 25. Individuals with a BMI of 25-29.9 are considered to be overweight and someone with a BMI of 30 or greater is considered to be obese.

Participants had no other sleep disorders such as moderate or severe sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, or circadian rhythm disorder, and no medical history related to cognitive impairment, major depression or other major mental illness, chronic pain, heart disease, heart failure, liver disease, or cancer.

Researchers also made sure participants were not currently on a special diet, were not shift workers, were not regular users of sedatives, hypnotics or pain killers, and had no history of substance abuse or eating disorders.

The men were divided into two groups; 28 were assigned to a diet group and 21 were assigned to a control group. Those in the control group continued with their existing diet and lifestyle. The diet group underwent a six-month individualized diet intervention that involved:

  • Three in-person counseling sessions

  • Online supervision up to three times each week

  • Reducing daily calorie intake by between 300 and 500 calories

  • A recommended nutrition plan

The recommended nutrition plan suggested a daily intake of:

  • 40 to 45 percent carbohydrates

  • 35 to 40 percent fat (10 percent or less from saturated fat, 15 to 20 percent from monounsaturated fat, 5 to 10 percent from polyunsaturated fat)

  • 20 percent protein

Participants were also encouraged to eat more foods containing:

  • High levels of dietary fiber

  • Vitamins A, C, D and E

  • B vitamins

  • Magnesium

  • Potassium

At the end of the six-month experiment, those in the diet intervention group saw significant decreases in body weight, total fat mass, and waist circumference.

Compared to the control group, men in the diet group were also getting more sleep, falling asleep faster, and enjoying better sleep efficiency.

Interestingly, these improvements were seen even though participants made no significant changes when it came to physical activity, sedentary time, or total energy expenditure.

A link between sleep and high energy consumption?

The study found that although the proportion of carbohydrates, fat, and protein were not significantly changed among those in the diet intervention group, total energy intake was significantly reduced.

However, as this study's authors stated, we still don't know for sure whether total energy intake or the proportion of energy-yielding nutrients is more important when it comes to sleep quality.

Those in the diet intervention group did have a greater intake of two nutrients that have been linked to sleep quality in previous studies: potassium and magnesium.

Although those in the diet intervention group lost weight, those in the control group gained weight. The researchers pointed to this as confirmation that insomnia can lead to weight gain.

Since 94 percent of participants were overweight or obese (as determined by their BMI) and all participants were men, researchers could only conclude that energy restriction and optimized nutrient composition can improve sleep in overweight and obese men with insomnia symptoms.

If you are overweight and struggling with sleep, talk to your doctor about improving your nutrition and energy intake. Do not make major changes to your diet or begin a new exercise regimen for insomnia without talking to your doctor first.

Martin Reed
Meet Our Writer
Martin Reed

Martin is the creator of Insomnia Coach, an eight-week course that combines online sleep education with individual sleep coaching. His course helps clients improve their sleep so they can enjoy a better life with more energy and start each day feeling happy, healthy, rested, and refreshed. Martin also runs a free sleep training course that has helped over 5,000 insomniacs. He holds a master’s degree in health and wellness education and studied clinical sleep health at the University of Delaware.