Sleep Quality and Duration Linked to Diet and Certain Nutrients

diet and sleep

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Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology have confirmed that certain nutrients are conducive to better quality sleep and sleep duration.

The research was led by Michael A. Grandner, PhD, an instructor of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. The researchers utilized the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to establish associations between sleep patterns with dietary intakes of particular nutrients.

The researchers categorized sleepers into groups, including “very short” sleepers who slept 5 hours a night or less; “short” sleepers who slept 5-6 hours per night; “standard” sleepers who slept 5-6 hours per night; and “long” sleepers who slept more than 9 hours per night.

As they compared the “standard” sleepers with the other three groups, they discovered that a number of nutrients were linked with shorter or longer sleep. Many of the associations stood out significantly. They also found associations with general dietary habits as well as lifestyle factors.

The nutrients that stood out included amount of water consumed, vitamin C, theobromine, choline and selenium.

The research discovered that “very short” sleepers consumed significantly less water, less carbohydrates, and 5% less lycopene. “Short” sleepers generally consumed 11% less vitamin C, 5% less water, 33% less selenium, and 12% more lutein/zeaxanthin.

“Long” sleepers, on the other hand, consumed less theobromine – a nutrient found in chocolates and black and green tea, less dodecanoic acid, 55% less choline and less total carbohydrates. “Long” sleepers also tended to drink significantly more alcohol.

Those very short sleepers and the long sleepers generally ate less calories per day, while short sleepers consumed the greatest amount of calories. “Very short” sleepers ate 51% less carbohydrates than did “standard” sleepers.

Dr. Grandner commented on the study in an interview with the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Medicine. “Overall, people who sleep 7 – 8 hours each night differ in terms of their diet, compared to people who sleep less or more. We also found that short and long sleep are associated with lower food variety. What we still don’t know is if people altered their diets, would they be able to change their overall sleep pattern? This will be an important area to explore going forward as we know that short sleep duration is associated with weight gain and obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Likewise, we know that people who sleep too long also experience negative health consequences. If we can pinpoint the ideal mix of nutrients and calories to promote healthy sleep, the healthcare community has the potential to make a major dent in obesity and other cardiometabolic risk factors.”

Many other studies have found that certain nutrients encourage sleep.

In fact, Dr. Grandner and his team led another sleep-nutrition study in 2010 that showed that a variety of nutrients encouraged good quality sleep. This study focused on 459 post-menopausal women enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative.

In this study, women kept diaries of their sleep and their dietary intakes. The study found that poor quality nighttime sleep was linked to higher intakes of total fats, monounsaturated fats, trans fats, saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, calories, gamma-tocopherol, cholesterol, and alpha-tocopherol.

Other nutrients were linked with daytime sleepiness, including again many of these fats, along with certain amino acids and other nutrients.

Learn more about the link between diet and insomnia.

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 Jan 20;64C:71-80.

Grandner MA, Kripke DF, Naidoo N, Langer RD. Relationships among dietary nutrients and subjective sleep, objective sleep, and napping in women. Sleep Med. 2010 Feb;11(2):180-4.

Adams C. Natural Sleep Solutions for Insomnia: The Science of Sleep, Dreaming, and Nature’s Sleep Remedies. Logical Books, 2011.

Case Adams is a California Naturopath with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies. “My journey into writing about alternative medicine began about 9:30 one evening after I finished with a patient at the clinic I practiced at over a decade ago. I had just spent the last two hours explaining how diet, sleep and other lifestyle choices create health problems and how changes in these, along with certain herbal medicines and other natural strategies can radically yet safely turn ones health around. As I drove home that night, I realized I needed to get this knowledge out to more people. So I began writing about health with a mission to reach those who desperately need this information. The strategies in my books and articles are backed by scientific evidence along with wisdom handed down through traditional medicines for thousands of years.” Case connects with the elements by surfing, hiking and being a beach bum.

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