A new study from the University of Pennsylvania shows a definite association between the two, revealing for the first time the role nutrients play in sleep duration. Interestingly, people who eat a large variety of foods - which usually indicates a healthy diet - showed the healthiest sleep patterns.
Sleep is a critical indicator of health. In general, people who report between 7-8 hours of sleep every night are most likely to experience better overall health and wellbeing.
So the question is - are there dietary differences between those who report shorter, longer or standard sleep patterns?
To answer this question, the research team analyzed data from the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
First, they used the survey question about how much sleep each participant reported getting each night to separate the participants into groups of ‘very short'’ (<5 hours/night), 'short' (5-6 hours/night), 'standard' (7-8 hours/night), and 'long' (9 or more hours/night).
Next, NHANES participants sat down with specially trained staff who went over a typical full day's dietary intake, from the occasional glass of water to full details of every meal.
Finally, the Penn research team analyzed if and how each group differed from the 7-8 hour ‘standard’ group on nutrients and total caloric intake.
They found that total caloric intake varied across groups. Short sleepers consumed the most calories, followed by normal sleepers, followed by very short sleepers and finally followed by long sleepers.
Food variety was highest in normal sleepers and lowest in very short sleepers. Differences across groups were found for many nutrients, including proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.
Very short sleep was associated with reduced intake of tap water, lycopene (found in red- and orange-colored foods) and total carbs. Short sleep was associated with less vitamin C, tap water, selenium (nuts, meat and shellfish) and more lutein/zeaxanthin (green, leafy vegetables). Finally, long sleep was associated with lower consumption of theobromine (chocolate and tea), the saturated fat dodecanoic acid, choline (eggs and fatty meats) and total carbs, but more alcohol.
Overall, people who sleep 7-8 hours each night differ in terms of their diet compared to people who sleep less or more. Short and long sleep are both associated with lower food variety.
Short sleep duration is known to be associated with weight gain, obesity, diabetes and increased incidence of heart disease. Similarly, people who sleep too long also experience negative health consequences.
At present it is unclear whether it is possible to change sleep patterns by changing a person’s diet. Health experts are looking for the ideal mix of nutrients and calories to promote healthy sleep, reducing obesity incidence along with all its consequences including diabetes, insulin resistance and heart disease.