15 February 2017  |  Editor


A unique study has shown a link between what you eat and how well you sleep. Researcher Michael Grandner, of Pennsylvania University’s Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology, explains that inadequate rest can raise your risk of obesity, diabetes, depression, and heart disease, while perpetually oversleeping is linked to shorter life spans.

So participants were grouped into long sleepers (9 hours or more a night), normal sleepers (7-8 hours a night) and short sleepers (5-6 hours a night), and their diet and real-life sleep patterns carefully monitored for a year. Previous studies comparing sleep and diet had only taken place in sterile laboratory conditions over a period of a few weeks, so the results of this research is particularly exciting.

The normal sleepers had the widest range of nutrients in their diet. The short sleepers had the lowest variety, suggesting either that poor diet contributes to poor sleep, or that lack of sleep leads to poor food choices, such as ready meals, fast food and the same snacks day in day out – or an ever-decreasing cycle of both.

Short sleepers were additionally found to have lower levels of vitamin C and selenium, both important antioxidants with vitamin C playing a vital role in detoxification and immune function, and selenium crucial to heart health, thyroid function and fertility. Short sleepers also drank less tap water. On the other hand, they had more lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidant plant compounds found in leafy greens that are beneficial to eye health. Very short sleepers (less than 5 hours a night) consumed fewer total carbohydrates and proteins, and were low in lycopene, the phytonutrient in tomatoes and other red and orange foods that is often recommended for prostate cancer prevention. They were also lacking the B vitamins thiamin (needed for muscles, nerves and energy production) and folate (used for red blood cell production, heart, nerve and brain health and much more).

Long sleepers also ate fewer total carbohydrates, but were short on lauric acid, an antiviral and antibacterial beneficial fat found in coconut oil, and choline, a substance found in eggs, poultry, fish grass-fed beef and some salad greens that is crucial for brain, nerve and muscle function, heart health and much more. They also had lower levels of theobromine, a stimulant chemical in chocolate and tea, but in general a higher level of alcohol consumption.

The researchers advise, however, not to get too distracted by detail at this stage until more research is done. Instead the overall message to take from this is that diet does indeed matter to how much sleep you’re getting. So to get a good night’s sleep, eat a diet rich in a broad variety of nutrients.
Grandner MA, Jackson N, Gerstner JR, Knutson KL, Dietary nutrients associated with short and long sleep duration. Data from a nationally representative sample. Appetite. 2013 May;64:71-80. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2013.01.004. Epub 2013 Jan 20.