It appears that there is a diet for almost every possible medical disorder. So is there a diet for sleep? Over the years, researchers have looked at different diets and how they affect sleep but the data have been puzzling. Now a research study shows that a diet that is low in fiber, high in unsaturated fat and sugar is more likely to be associated with light, less restorative sleep. In addition, the individual is more likely to be aroused from his/her sleep. The study, published in the January issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, was led by Dr. Marie-Pierre St-Onge, Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University Medical Center, New York.
In this study the researchers followed 26 adults between the ages 30-45 who had prior sleep problems. These individuals were monitored for five nights in a sleep lab, spending nine hours in bed each night from 10 pm to 7 am. Objective sleep data were collected by polysomnography. During the first four days, participants consumed a controlled diet; on day five, the participant was allowed to select his/her own diet.
Results showed that sleep duration was similar during the controlled diet and self selected diet. However, the quality of sleep was different. On the day when the diet was self-selected, individuals had less of the deep slow-wave sleep and it took a longer time to fall asleep.
Food analysis revealed that ingestion of high fiber foods predicted less stage 1 (very light) sleep and more slow-wave sleep. In addition, when the diet consisted of saturated fat, sugars and processed carbohydrates, it predicted less slow wave sleep and frequent arousals
Dr. St-Onge mentioned that the results reveal a vicious cycle of sleep, which if restricted sets up oneself for a poor diet with increased sugar and fat and that in turn will adversely affect sleep. So the cycle of poor sleep becomes continuous.
So far the researchers have not looked at the biochemical mechanisms behind these finding but suggest that the diet could be involving the circadian systems. It is well known that diets high in carbohydrate intake delay circadian rhythms and lower secretion of melatonin, which can delay onset of sleep. In addition hormones may also be secreted during sleep deprivation and create an urge to eat unhealthy foods.
The researcher next hope to study the role of specific diets in sleep disorder such as insomnia, short sleep duration, and poor overall sleep quality. In the meantime for those who are having difficulty sleeping, try adding more fiber and less fat and sugar to your diet- it may just work.
Edited -Dr. Lin